Illinois Department of Natural Resources

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Melaney Arnold, 217-558-0500; Tim Schweizer, 217-785-0970


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.

Tough training
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 and character.

“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 full-fledged CPOs.

“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 love.”

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 handle furs.

“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.”