DWR Law Enforcement Celebrates 125 Years of Helping Maintain Healthy Wildlife Populations in Utah

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DWR press release

The law enforcement section of the Utah Wildlife Division has gone through various changes over its 125-year history, but the conservation of Utah’s fish and wildlife species – and enforcement of the laws that protect them – have continued to be the top priority since the first gamekeeper took office. in Utah in 1896.

While the settlers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, formal legislation to protect fish and wildlife was not enacted until 1853, when the Legislative Assembly passed legislation to regulate fish and wildlife. fishing to prevent overexploitation of fish. Lawmakers appointed the first county fishery commissioners in 1874 as administrators of fishing laws and to enact protection for game birds and songbirds. The first “Commissioner of Fisheries for the Territory of Utah” was appointed in 1876, and John Sharp was appointed the first “State Fishery and Game Ranger” in 1896 after Utah became a State.

Sharp worked to enforce regulations that had been implemented to protect species of fish and wildlife in the state. In 1909, law enforcement officers were divided into six districts across the state, each supervised by a “district director.”

“The enforcement of the laws on fishing and game is in the hands of the deputy chief, the district chief prefects and also the county prefects, who are energetic and upright men,” said Fred Chambers, State Commissioner for Fisheries and Game, in a 1915-1916 press release. report to the Governor of Utah. “Their duties don’t end at a certain time of day, but they are on duty day and night, with Saturdays, Sundays and holidays being their busiest days. Their goal has always been to uphold the law without fear.

Wildlife regulations and the enforcement of these regulations help maintain healthy fish and animal populations so that people can enjoy them for generations. Before Utah put in place its first hunting regulations, the state’s native elk had all but been wiped out – with the exception of a small isolated herd – due to overexploitation due to hunting. Hunters, ranchers and other interested parties worked with the state’s wildlife agency to move 155 elk from Jackson Hole and north Yellowstone to Utah. Imported elk flourished and their numbers rapidly increased. Currently there are approximately 80,000 elk in Utah.

“Our officers are protecting Utah’s wildlife and ensuring the safety of those who enjoy the outdoors in Utah every day,” said DWR Lt. Chad Bettridge. “The various functions and tasks of a conservation officer are endless and every day is different. Our officers are courageous men and women with a great passion for Utah’s wildlife and the great outdoors. We greatly value the generations of conservationists whose work has had significant impacts on the current quality of life and the natural resources we enjoy in the state.

Conservation officers enforce and enforce wildlife laws, educate and protect the recreational public, and strive to promote the value of wildlife to everyone in Utah. As fully certified law enforcement officers, DWR conservation officers increasingly respond to non-wildlife criminal code violations and are often called upon to assist local law enforcement agencies. . Some of their tasks include:

  • Patrol the mountains and lakes of Utah, investigating wildlife violations. Conservation officers patrol on foot, horseback, motorcycle, ATV, boat or truck.

  • Assist biologists with studies and surveys to help inform management decisions.

  • Eliminate harmful wildlife from urban areas.

  • Assist other agencies with various investigations and enforcement.

  • Assist with search and rescue missions and other emergency response efforts.

  • Help Hunter Education to educate new hunters and anglers to be responsible and ethical.

  • Apply all the laws of Utah.

As part of its 125-year history, the DWR successfully initiated a K-9 program in the 1990s to incorporate trained dogs to aid in investigations. However, funding for the program was halted and the program ended in 1995. In 2017, renewed interest allowed the program to restart and the DWR purchased and trained a dog. Currently, each of Utah’s five regions has a trained dog and handler.

“Our K-9s have been certified and trained to detect a variety of wildlife, including big game, waterfowl, upland game, fish, cougars, bears and various species of furbearing animals,” said Bettridge. “Dogs can smell these animals and fish in vehicles, buildings or containers. Our K-9s also track dogs and can locate objects with a human odor, such as guns, knives, cameras, or other lost or thrown items. This ability has been useful not only for investigating poaching cases, but also for assisting in search and rescue situations in locating lost hikers and helping other law enforcement agencies locate evidence. .

When they’re full, there are 80 conservation officers all over Utah and they patrol an area of ​​about 1,800 square miles. Currently there are 69 agents. Since 1896, three conservation officers have died in the line of duty.

“My favorite part about a conservation officer is being on patrols and being able to interact with the public,” Bettridge said. “I love seeing people enjoy the outdoors in Utah and hearing their stories of hunting and fishing. Sometimes people make mistakes or make bad decisions, but for the most part, the people who hunt, fish and enjoy the state’s wildlife and nature go out of their way to help wildlife and wild places to survive. stay healthy and protected.

To learn more about Utah conservation officers or to assist them in reporting any wildlife-related crime, visit the DWR website.

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