Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 13, 2008

Dave Richey: Death in the line of duty

They are called many names, and few are nice. Fish Cop. Park Pig. Game Warden. Woods Cop. The Man (or Woman) In Green.

All refer to Michigan Department of Natural Resources' conservation officers. These men and women have the same powers of arrest as other law enforcement agencies, and they serve as the first line of defense against those who poach fish, fur or game.

A fallacy exists about poachers. Some think these people are just "good ol' boys" out having fun at the state's expense.

The life of a poacher is much more than that.

Many have police records for crimes and some are vicious criminals, according to DNR files. The worst are those who poach for personal profit. They sell their ill-gotten fish and game and pocket millions of dollars a year, based on DNR statistics. Back in 1980, a DNR study listed the dollar amount at $21 million.

"It is impossible to place a dollar figure on the value of poached fish, fur and game in this state," said Lt. Jane Gordon of the DNR Law Enforcement Division in Lansing. "For instance, a poached deer in 1980 had a replacement value of $100. That value is now $1,000. My guess is it would be substantially higher (now). We could only base an estimate on those cases that go to court, and where a restitution fee is paid."

Most poachers are 25-45 years of age, and some are capable of murder.

"Some poachers we arrest have been convicted of arson, assault, battery, breaking and entering, drug sales, murder, negligent homicide and rape." said an officer who requested anonymity. "Several officers have been killed while enforcing fish and game laws."

There is a long but infrequent history of violence against conservation officers. Serious confrontations have never been common.


The first two conservation officer deaths occurred in 1926 when Arvid Erickson and Emil Skoglund were shot by ex-convict Roy Nunn while patrolling the Sand Plains area of Marquette County. Nunn had previously been convicted of first-degree murder.

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