CONWAY (AGFC) – Ten new faces will be joining the ranks of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officers this fall. The latest class of wildlife officer cadets celebrated graduation from the AGFC’s training program today at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway.
The process to become a wildlife officer began in June when 13 men and women were selected from several hundred applicants to participate in the AGFC’s wildlife officer training program. All applicants chosen were required to have a minimum of a four-year college degree, four years of full-time law enforcement, four years military law enforcement, or a combination of those criteria.
During their 16-week training, cadets spent most of their waking hours at the H.C. “Red” Morris Training Center east of Mayflower on Lake Conway. They received 740 hours of training in self-defense, firearms, first aid and rescue, drug enforcement, physical conditioning, criminal law and wildlife code enforcement.
Capt. Sydney Carman directs the cadet-training program, with many AGFC enforcement officers serving as instructors. Other experts teach specialized topics.
“We handle most of the training in house, but we do have special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teach a special course on federal wildlife law instruction,” Carman said. “We also typically have instructors with Arkansas State Police come in to assist with training on child abuse and domestic violence situations.”
Carman explains that the intense training regimen and variety of topics is a requirement for all wildlife officers because of their duty to enforce all state laws in addition to wildlife laws.
“There’s no telling what sort of situation a wildlife officer may find him or herself in while working, so we want to make sure our cadets get the training they need to be prepared for what may come.”
Each officer is assigned to a duty station based on the current needs of the Commission, but accommodations can be made to ensure officers that are familiar with certain areas are assigned near them if possible.
“Wildlife officers are part of the community where they live,” said Assistant Deputy Director Pat Fitts. “The more familiar and comfortable people are with an officer, the better he or she can enforce laws and help the community with its needs.”
Job announcements to fill vacancies are done on an as-needed basis, but retirements and promotions have enabled the Enforcement Division to recruit for one class per year for the last few years.
“Being a wildlife officer is a job people love, and many stay until retirement,” Carman said. “Right now we just have a lot of people that have been on the job 30 years that are moving on, which has caused these vacancies to open up more frequently.”
The 2017 graduates and their county assignments are:
Eric Cain, Sebastian County
Rodney Myers, St. Francis County
Tod Haskins, Jackson County
Carter Vance, Craighead County
Szymanski “Rick” Fields II, Pulaski County
Channing Sanders, Saline County
Audrey Hunter, Lincoln County
Benjamin Waldrip, Lee County
James Gould, Poinsett County
Brian Tatum, Van Buren County