Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fish and Game officer hangs up his badge

Roger Olson leaving state agency after 30 years


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Longtime Hailey resident Roger Olson, district conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game?s Magic Valley Region, is retiring after 30 years with the state agency. Photo by Chris Pilaro

After 30 years with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in the agency's Bureau of Enforcement, Hailey resident Roger Olson is ready to hang up his badge and move on to the next chapter in his life.

Olson, district conservation officer for Fish and Game's Magic Valley Region, will officially retire later this week, on Friday, June 29.

But don't think that means he'll be spending far less time at the office, which for him has meant the hundreds of thousands of acres of mountains and rangeland surrounding the Wood River Valley and the upper Magic Valley north of the Snake River.

"I'm in love with the mountains," Olson said. "I do a lot of hiking in them just to be in them."

An avid elk and mule deer hunter, Olson has already put in for a limited draw deer hunt for Fish and Game's Unit 52, a mostly desert expanse of sagebrush and wide open vistas south of U.S. Highway 20 and Magic Reservoir. For those lucky few who secure a tag for the highly popular hunt, spending just several days afield isn't enough, Olson said.

"You kind of owe it to yourself to spend a lot of time out there," he said. "I have that time."

Olson, 59, has been working full-time for Fish and Game since October 1977. The Minnesota native's full-time career in Idaho as a conservation officer began in 1977 near Malad, located south of Pocatello near the Utah state border.

That stint lasted for six years, after which Olson accepted a position that brought he and his wife, Kathryn, northwest to the Wood River Valley. It's a move the Olsons haven't regretted.

"We did that and haven't looked back," he said.

Among his various duties, Olson has been responsible for overseeing six other conservation officers managing the north half of the Magic Valley region. Statewide, Idaho's roughly 100 conservation officers cover on average nearly 1,000 square miles of territory each, Olson said.

Time to himself now about to become more customary than luxury. Olson said he isn't completely sure what he'll do from day to day.

"There's a lot of things I enjoy," he said. "I just haven't made any specific plans yet."

However, in addition to having a lot more time for deer hunting, Olson does have plans to spend much of his spare time fishing the Wood River Valley's gill-filled waterways.

"I really enjoy fly-fishing," he said. "There's something in every cast."

For Olson, fly-fishing is to spinner fishing as bowhunting is to rifle hunting. Both pursuits require more attention, skill and patience.

"If I can manage to do it with a fly I like to," he said.

But perhaps more importantly, fishing is a real good reason to be out in the hills.

Considering his career, Olson lays claim to something few people can or do.

"I've never regretted my career path, even on the harder days," he said.

As a law enforcement officer in charge of protecting Idaho's cherished wildlife resources, Olson has seen and been involved in some pretty important cases.

One of his more memorable cases was a local incident involving the poaching of a moose. The violation happened on private property south of Hailey on the Big Wood River.

Based on an investigation of the crime, Olson and his fellow officers determined the owners of the property had killed the moose the previous November and subsequently buried it on their land.

"Presumably they had done it because they didn't like them (moose) on their property," Olson said.

Months after its burial, Fish and Game contracted with a backhoe operator to come in and unearth the moose. The investigation and retrieval of the large ungulate indicates just how far Fish and Game conservation officers will go to catch someone who breaks the law, Olson said.

"We will go to great lengths to catch wildlife violators," he said.

The landowner who shot the moose was ordered to pay $1,500 to Fish and Game, $605 in fines and court costs and an additional $487 to the backhoe operator for his services.

As much effort as he and other wildlife conservation officers put into their jobs, at the end of the day they can rest easy even when they may not have nabbed a suspect, Olson said.

"I can sleep at night knowing it's just a deer."

By comparison, the crimes public law enforcement officers investigate can be far weightier.

"It's much more difficult to leave their jobs at the offices," Olson said.

Olson suspects his retirement may mean more for his family than for him. Because his office has been based out of his Hailey home, he has regularly received calls from area citizens related to wildlife issues.

"I suspect my family is going to enjoy my retirement much more than I am," he said.

Olson said he appreciates the Wood River Valley community and its attitude toward its wild neighbors. More than many other communities, people living in the area recognize they are living alongside wildlife, he said. For most, the occasional black bear ambling through a neighborhood knocking over trash cans or moose at large in a local pond are viewed as just another aspect of living here.

"That's part of the valley," he said. "What a remarkable atmosphere to work in."

Olson's satisfaction with his career aside, he said he does have one regret.

Between five and six years ago, he received a call from homeowners who said a black bear was in an adjacent room inside their house in Greenhorn Gulch. The homeowners told Olson they were in a room of the house without an exit.

Rushing from his home to head north to Greenhorn Gulch, Olson quickly threw on a pair of tennis shoes rather than his customary leather boots.

Upon entering the home, Olson carefully looked around a corner in the direction of some noise and saw the bear rummaging around. As things turned out, the bear quickly headed across the room to a large hole in a screen door.

As it passed halfway through the hole in the door, Olson came from behind thinking he'd give the bear a swift kick in the rear end on its way out, thereby giving him quite the story to tell. But, alas, he remembered he only had his tennis shoes on.

"I knew I was going to kick him harder than my toes could stand," he said.

So, he instead reverted to a safer method, helping the bear out of the house with more of a soft release, so to speak.

"I ended up slapping that bear on his ass," Olson said with a laugh.

One recent trend does worry Olson. He said fewer young people are spending time in the woods, leaving them less connected to the outdoors and its wild inhabitants. Even for the few who do spend time outside, the activities have changed.

In the past, kids caught frogs when they went outside. Now they play on all-terrain vehicles.

"Even though they've left the cities, they've brought it with them," Olson said.

The trend has this longtime conservation officer concerned for the future of wildlife agencies.

"Where are tomorrow's biologists?" he asked.

Learning about nature requires being close up, he said. You can't gain an appreciation for the natural world sitting inside listening to an iPod or playing video games.

Rather, Olson said, "It's all about getting out there and getting dirty."




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