PORT ANGELES - Fish and wildlife law enforcement officers must expand the ways they work with the public if they are to remain effective defenders of natural resources.
That was the message delivered this week by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Jeff Koenings to law enforcement professionals gathered here for the annual meeting of the Western Wildlife Law Enforcement Association.
The meeting, which began Sunday, concludes today.
Koenings spoke to the convened officers on Monday, saying fish and wildlife officers will continue to be called upon to perform traditional duties such as enforcing hunting and fishing regulations and dealing with public safety and health issues issues.
"All of the traditional activities of your profession are important and essential" if fish and wildlife agencies are to be successful, Koenings told the officers.
But, Koenings added, to be truly effective in today's world, fish and wildlife officers will be required to go beyond their accustomed roles.
"Enforcement programs must focus on new, expanded strategies emphasizing partnerships, environmental protection, public education, conflict resolution, voluntary compliance and cooperation and, yes, grass roots empowerment," Koenings said.
"Catching the individual who overbags or fishes without a license is important," he added. "But, in the end, working with an entire community to protect an entire watershed to ensure healthy fish and wildlife populations for the future is more important."
Koenings noted that WDFW, under the leadership of enforcement Chief Bruce Bjork, has made solid strides in recent years in embracing this new philosophy.
For example, the enforcement program last year consolidated all of its marine detachments under one division to improve coordination within the department and expand partnerships with tribal, state and federal agencies.
"This effort has allowed us to successfully pool our resources and conduct joint emphasis patrols ....that have paid off handsomely with increased angler opportunity and, at the same time, compliance with fish protection rules," Koenings said.
The Enforcement Program, working in conjunction with other WDFW programs, has also been successful in developing locally based dangerous wildlife task forces to address cougar and bear management issues.
"These task forces have brought together local landowners, environmental groups, hunters and others interested in dangerous wildlife issues to address cougar and bear public safety issues, and work towards crafting specific action plans unique to specific areas of the state," Koenings said.
Koenings noted that in July, 2003, WDFW will host the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' (WAFWA) annual meeting, which is also being held in Port Angeles.
During that meeting, a new Enforcement Committee will meet for the first time and work to improve coordination between the law enforcement divisions of wildlife management agencies in 13 western states, he said.
The complete text of Koenings' speech can be viewed on the WDFW website on the page called "From The Director".