Friday, August 15, 2008

Cost of living challenges wildlife officers

There’s one fewer Fish and Game officer in Blaine County


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer Lee Garwood is the last of a vanishing breed: a locally-based wildlife official. Photo by David N. Seelig

For years there were three, but now Rob Morris of Carey and Lee Garwood of Bellevue are the only two Idaho Department of Fish and Game conservation officers in Blaine County.

When Hailey-based Conservation Officer Roger Olson retired last winter, the county lost one of its officers, and because of the high cost of living in Blaine County that loss could signify things to come.

Here's how it broke down.

There are six conservation officers and one field supervisor in the north zone of the department's Magic Valley Region. Olson had been that supervisor, and when he retired, his supervisor's shoes were filled by Fairfield Conservation Officer Greg Wooten. Wooten stayed put.

"Roger was the north district supervisor, and it just so happened that he lived in Blaine County," said Conservation Officer Lee Garwood. "Essentially Roger functioned as a third officer."

But given expensive real estate prices in a resort-oriented economy, the luxury of having three officers in Blaine County is something that will not likely be duplicated.

"It's not likely that we'll have a supervisor living up here again," Garwood said. "What's more, at some point in time when Rob Morris and I are gone, they're going to have to face the fact that it's going to be difficult to have any officer living up here."

It's something Garwood said is true about more than Idaho Department of Fish and Game conservation officers.

"It's the same for fire, police, teachers, nurses—everything."

Kelton Hatch, Fish and Game regional conservation educator, said the main impact of losing local conservation officers would be an increase in response time to wildlife calls from individuals.

"One of the most common problems we have in the Wood River Valley this time of the year is bear calls," he said.

Hatch said that if officers had to live outside the valley it could also mean less time spent patrolling nearby hunting units and fishing areas due to the increased driving time.




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