Illinois Department of Natural Resources
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Melaney Arnold, 217-558-0500; Tim Schweizer, 217-785-0970
CONSERVATION POLICE OFFICERS TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
It’s one of the most demanding, diverse and dangerous
jobs at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Yet you’d never
know it when smiling conservation police officers chat-up visitors at
county fairs about safe boating or teach hunter education courses.
“Some people think that all we do is check your
hunting or fishing license. We get the usual comments about how fun our
jobs must be, just riding around in boats all day,” says Lt. Eric
Bumgarner, with a wry smile. “We hear it all.”
According to the law-enforcement training officer, a
day on the job can switch from the calm of routine patrolling to
hyper-vigilance in the skip of a heartbeat.
Between last August and September, conservation
police officers rescued a critically injured girl who wrecked her
bicycle on a steep bike trail. Another officer helped find four
terrified children lost in the Shawnee National Forest. Officers
arrested a duo that harvested and tried to sell more than 18 pounds of
ginseng out of season. A DNR K-9 unit tracked and located a missing
person. They pulled severely injured boating accident victims to safety.
A CPO subdued a distraught, suicidal man who was driving a car while
under the influence. They made drug arrests on state properties,
evaluated fish kills and investigated mysterious deaths of deer on a
landowner’s property (later found to be from Epizootic Hemorrhagic
Disease). An officer saved a struggling, panicked swimmer at a lake.
They dealt with a long list of poaching violations of everything from
doves, ducks, geese and fish to a protected Cooper’s hawk.
During the Hurricane Katrina Relief effort, a team of
12 CPOs saved 40 people during search and rescue missions in New
Orleans. They also saved canisters of liquid nitrogen containing 1,200
frozen embryos valued at $500,000 from a hospital.
Protecting natural resources
One hundred fifty-eight Illinois CPOs enforce hundreds of state and
federal conservation laws and regulations. CPOs also are vested with
full, statewide police authority and trained to the highest standards.
“Most of the citizens we meet day to day are fantastic people – hunters,
anglers, trappers, campers, hikers and bikers who follow the law 100
percent,” Bumgarner says. “At times we come across folks who aren’t
clear on regulations and commit violations.”
Others are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. “People who
don’t follow boating or key safety rules can make life hazardous in the
blink of any eye,” he adds. “We’re the DNR’s front line, trying to
protect natural resources and help people make safe and ethical
decisions in the outdoors.”
Crime fighting and rescue
CPOs deal with offenders at state properties too – folks who seriously
abuse hunting and fishing regulations. Drug dealers have been know to
ply their trade within secluded DNR properties. “When it comes to crime,
we’re like other cops,” says Bumgarner. “CPOs see good and bad.”
They routinely assist other police agencies in other crime fighting and
rescue. “Ron Palumbo, our 2004 Conservation Police Officer of the Year,
reported a house fire, and before anyone could arrive, he alone pulled a
senior citizen out of the blaze,” he notes.
Becoming an officer requires 12 weeks of basic police training and
another 12 to 14 weeks of conservation law training at the Conservation
Police Academy in Springfield. Recruits are pushed to their limits
physically and academically. They must show mental toughness, integrity
“Training for CPOs is nothing short of military basic training,”
Bumgarner explains. “The days are long, hard and draining. Each recruit
must maintain a minimum 80 percent average academically. They are
evaluated on everything they do and say.”
Upon graduation, recruits undergo another 18 weeks of field training,
and they are evaluated daily by a training officer assigned to them.
They then serve a 3-month solo probation period. After that, they are
“Most people know what tomorrow brings. CPOs don’t. Their shift might be
exciting, scary or fun,” says Bumgarner. “Every day is a learning
experience that builds on training at the academy. Ask any CPO about
their work, and they’re likely to say it’s the toughest job they’ll ever
CPOs Study Trapping A-Z
Two CPOs recently traded their uniforms for hip
waders when they attended Trappers College in Indiana.
The Fur Takers of America event attracted 50
outdoorsmen in September to learn trapping A-Z, including furbearer
ecology, trapping equipment, humane capture techniques and risks posed
by wildlife diseases. CPOs also learned how to run a trap line and
“The DNR licenses 3,000 trappers each year, so CPOs
need to know all they can about trapping,” says Eric Bumgarner,
law-enforcement training officer. “Our two graduates will share their
knowledge with other officers.”
Illinois Furtakers Chapter 17B, based in Freeport,
submitted a grant proposal to the DNR’s Illinois Furbearer Fund to
sponsor the CPOs’ attendance. Through the grant, CPOs will attend
Trappers College for the next two years.
Richard Ten Pas, who submitted the grant proposal,
says, “Trappers do their best to be responsible, ethical and law
abiding. We support strict enforcement of laws to maintain a strong
trapping heritage in Illinois.”