From Critters to Crises, Agents Protect and Serve
As a Missouri Department of Conservation agent for nearly 26 years, Rob Farr '77 has learned to prepare for the unexpected.
Working near Warsaw, he may spend a typical morning in the field advising landowners about wildlife or enforcing wildlife codes. In the afternoon, he may teach hunter education classes or conduct school programs.
Serving in Katrina's Aftermath
However one week last September, the unexpected came. As a horrified nation watched the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Katrina, Farr and 15 other conservation members were enmeshed in the search and rescue effort. Along with the group was UCM alumnus Lynn McClamroch '77, northeast district supervisor, Kirksville.
True to the department's strong tradition of making itself available in times of need, the conservationists responded to a call from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. They needed help finding and rescuing stranded hurricane victims. Agents across the state generously volunteered, but Farr and McClamroch were among the few chosen.
"It's probably the most dramatic thing I have done," Farr said. "We faced pretty tough situations while we were there."
Performing under Duress
The crew arrived with boats and gear. They spent several days searching through houses and assisting victims wherever they could. Although conservation agents are used to all sorts of conditions, most charted new physical and emotional territory with the situations they incurred.
"Just the elements alone - the water was toxic and terrible and you didn't want to get any of it on you," Farr noted. "We also came in contact with a lot of different types of people - from the rich to the poorest of the poor. We did take several people to safety who had been trapped in their homes."
They also heard incredible stories from other volunteers.
"One of our guys told me about how they got in a house and there was a man sitting in his living room in a canoe. He had been there for eight days, and the only thing he had when they found him was a few saltine crackers and half a bottle of water," Farr said.
Experiences to Last a Lifetime
Memories of what Farr and McClamroch saw in New Orleans were likely shared among agents as they participated in a January conference at the Lake of the Ozarks. It is a meeting that happens every three years for members of the department's Protection Division. For them, it's not only about discussing the key issues facing the division, but, for some, it's practically a reunion of UCM alumni. In a unit that has a force of about 200 personnel statewide, at least 25 of its members are UCM graduates.
"I think a lot of our guys went to UCM with the intention of becoming conservation agents," said McClamroch, who majored in recreation and tourism at UCM before landing his first job as an agent in Schuyler County about 29 years ago.
He noted that UCM alumni are found in other department divisions, including design and development, education, fisheries, forestry, outreach, private lands and wildlife.
Job Comes with Danger, Authority
Once called game wardens, members of the Missouri Conservation Department Protection Division face more danger and have more authority than police officers. A significant number are UCM graduates.
Agents are designated as local representatives of the Conservation Commission and are assigned to specific locations in the state. They have a broad understanding of the Department of Conservation's many different areas of responsibility and are certified peace officers in Missouri. As such, they enforce the rules of the state's Wildlife Code and laws on lands owned, operated, managed or leased by the department.
Public Interaction Key to Success
McClamroch observed that an agent's duties demand a high level of interest in people and in conservation.
"We really work at developing community relationships," he said. "We get involved in public relations programs, meetings, and have lots of one-on-one contact with the people in our counties and districts."
Agents are well known for their roles enforcing state law, whether that's checking fishing permits or helping to track down poachers. However, their duties also include appearing at county fairs, participating in radio and television shows, and conducting youth education programs, public meetings, hunter safety and ethics classes.
So what attracts so many UCM graduates to the Missouri Department of Conservation? Alumni in the Protection Division believe it's a combination of an excellent education, coupled with a desire to make a positive contribution to the state's wildlife and land resources.
Mike Burton '75, a third generation UCM graduate, was an agent for 28 years before he became a district supervisor in Osceola in 1997. His stepson, Scott Brown, an agent in Barton County, has followed the same path. Like many other conservationists, they share common interests as individuals who love the outdoors and enjoy hunting, fishing and boating.
"I really like working with people and the challenges of dealing with them in all kinds of situations. I had a double major, so this was an opportunity to put my law enforcement degree and my biology degree to work," Burton said. What's more, agents like Burton are not afraid to take risks - an essential quality considering that many violators are carrying firearms when confronted in the field. That's especially true for agents in the covert unit, where Burton spent two years as a plain clothes officer.
"It's kind of like an undercover narcotics officer, only our main focus is to find the larger dealers who are commercializing wildlife," he said.
Career Filled with Memories
Between reminiscing about the time he saw then-unknown Jimmy Buffet perform Margaritaville at the University Union Mule Barn and the professors who influenced his career, Ralph McNair '75, district supervisor, Springfield, shared notes on his many years of service with the department. This includes his time with the covert unit. Although the department has an outstanding safety record, he described why working alone in the woods is not for the faint-hearted.
"In the 31 years that I have worked for the department, I have called for backup one time," McNair remembered. "That is when I had five guys threatening to kill me. There was one guy in the woods with a rifle and the other four said, 'All we have to do is raise our hand and he's going to shoot you.'"
But McNair's agent training paid off with him making the arrest unharmed. Today, he continues sharing his passion for conservation with others.
UCM Degree Part Biology - Part Criminology
He is pleased that UCM's Department of Biology now offers a Bachelor of Science in Biology degree with a functional major in Conservation Enforcement. It combines biology and criminal justice courses, which McNair insists are a great combination for anyone wanting to take on what he said is "the best job in the world" for someone who enjoys the outdoors.
Beyond preparation for future agents, the university benefits from a strong relationship with the Department of Conservation in other ways. This recently translated into a $300,000 grant to build the new Agriculture and Conservation Education Center at Prussing Research Farm - one more notch in a positive partnership that will serve the university and the state for many years to come.
- Jeff Murphy '76 hs, '80, '95