Wondering what it’s like to be an Iowa State Conservation Officer, I interviewed Jeff Harrison of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Jeff has been with the DNR for 13 years, following 27 years as a Park Ranger.
Although Officer Harrison is looking forward to retirement, he told me he has never had a bad day at work and wakes up every morning looking forward to his job. As he spoke, it was obvious to me that he is as excited about his work as he is committed to it.
Although the job is technically 40 hours per week, it is often more, especially now that he is the only officer for Scott County. He hopes the proposed budget will pass and the vacant position in the county will be filled.
Our DNR officers have the same privileges and responsibilities as sheriffs and local police officers plus duties related to fish and game laws. Jeff is also deputized as a Federal Game Warden and is often called to assist with officers in neighboring counties.
The most common infractions he encounters are not having the proper license or tags for fishing or hunting (40 percent) and alcohol abusers on boats, snowmobiles and ATVs (25 percent). Others include absence of life jackets, trespassing and poaching. Ginseng, at $800/pound, is especially attractive and he tickets poachers and people who harvest it without a license or out of the legal season.
He asked me to remind people that all kayaks are subject to the rules and regulations that apply to all watercraft, regardless of their length.
His busiest seasons are November, when he often works 12 to 14 hour days, July 4 and Labor Day, when he is working the river and lakes. Deer season is very busy, responding to reports of people hunting over bait or spotlighting deer with weapons in the vehicle.
Memorable infractions include arrests for the illegal harvest of game fish in the Mississippi River by commercial fishermen and the shooting of two trumpeter swans in the Princeton Marsh, both called in by law-abiding fishers and hunters. In both cases, accessory equipment and vehicles were confiscated, heavy fines were levied and sporting privileges were suspended for the offenders.
Officer Jeff believes game fish numbers are rising significantly in almost all area waters but deer population trends vary. While some rural areas are seeing declining or steady deer numbers, our cities and suburbs are becoming overpopulated, as anyone with a garden or tasty plantings can attest.
He says there are fewer fishing licenses sold to adults lately, but sees a lot more young children enjoying the sport. However, their numbers drop off due to participation in team sports. As an interesting observation, Jeff refers to those activities as “temporary sports” because people usually can’t play football or soccer for too many years. But fishing and hunting are “lifetime sports." Proof of that can be found in some of my previous columns with stories of octogenarians still actively hunting and fishing.
For a long list of available outdoor activities, Jeff suggests going to the DNR website https://programs.iowadnr.gov/specialevents/, calling a DNR officer (names and numbers are in the fishing and hunting rules booklets), or watching for upcoming events in the Quad-Cities Times. The DNR offers training classes about hunter and boating safety, and sponsors many fun events such as fishing and ice fishing tournaments.
He told me the best part of his job is meeting people in the field and on the water who are enjoying the many recreational opportunities available to us all and thanking them for their legal participation.
So what does Jeff the DNR officer do in his free time? You might be as shocked as I was to learn that Jeff goes hunting and fishing.