More officers on trails

CONSERVATION OFFICER: Sgt. Michael Bomay, of the DNR law enforcement division, helps a couple with their boat in Newaygo County in June. Under the new state budget, the DNR expects to hire 30 new conservation officers. (Pioneer file photo)

MICHIGAN — After seeing a drop in funding during the past 12 years, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is preparing to increase the number of conservation officers once the 2013-14 budget takes effect on Oct. 1.

The additional hires are possible through a $2.9 million increase the DNR received in the budget, said DNR public information officer Ed Golder.

“We will be able to hire 25 to 30 new officers,” Golder said. “We expect that will increase customer contacts down the line, people asking for assistance in one form or another.”

In 2011, the last year data is available, DNR law enforcement made approximately 350,000 contacts for matters ranging from well-being checks to investigating illegal activity.

“About 25,000 of those involved unlawful activity and about 8,000 ended in enforcement action being taken,” Golder said.

The DNR currently employs 173 conservation officers, a drop of 70 officers since 2001.

With fee increases for some hunting and fishing licenses being considered by the state legislature, the department could find itself able to hire even more officers during the 2014-15 fiscal year. However, Golder noted the fee restructuring, if approved, is not expected to raise enough revenue to bring staffing levels for conservation officers back to 2001 levels.

“It will still put us short, but that additional license money will put in a better position,” he said.

Out of Michigan’s 83 counties, four currently do not have a conservation officer assigned to them, and they will be the first to get a new hire, Golder continued.

“(Those counties) will be our first priority,” he said. “We’ll look to under-served areas as well.”

Mecosta County should qualify as one of those under-served areas, as the county currently as just one assigned conservation officer, while in the past it has had two, said Sgt. Robert Torres.

Torres, who works in District 4, which covers 11 counties from Mecosta to Grand Traverse counties, said there are 15 officers who cover the 11-county area.

“In this district, at a minimum we have one (officer) per county,” he said. “Some counties have two, but the majority have one, so we are at least five counties short of normal staffing.”

The addition of a second officers in counties such as Mecosta would decrease response times if the first officer is busy, he added.

Officers in District 4 have been about as busy as normal for this time of year, Torres noted.

“We work the best we can as a team,” he said. “We pool resources if there are high volumes of anglers or trouble spots by pulling (officers) from other counties.”

Because conservation officers also are fully commissioned state police officers, they can act to augment local law enforcement in sparsely populated areas, Golder added.

“They are an important part of the law enforcement network and rural law enforcement,” he said.

 

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