DNREC’s new outreach trailer aims to educate

From left, Natural Resources Police Chief Robert Legates opens the new outreach unit while Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary David Small and Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Saveikis take a tour. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

From left, Natural Resources Police Chief Robert Legates opens the new outreach unit while Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary David Small and Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Saveikis take a tour. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

DOVER — Being an enforcement officer for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is a tough job. It’s just like being a police officer, only in some respects more difficult. The 26 officers in the Division of Fish and Wildlife have to go through the police academy to become certified like their counterparts, and then they receive special training.

They are essentially state troopers, only they typically deal with individuals violating game law, such as endangered species provisions.

Natural Resources Police investigates alleged crimes and makes arrests when necessary, but members have another important duty, one that can allow DNREC to stop wildlife infraction at the source: education and outreach.

As part of its mission to provide information to the public, DNREC unveiled a new trailer Thursday. The camouflage-wrapped trailer is chock-full of brochures, taxidermied animals and confiscated weapons.

It is part of the Operation Game Theft, a 35-year-old program that tasks the public with being informed and contacting DNREC for game law violations.

“The compliance is the goal, and to achieve that, it’s through education and enforcement,” Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Saveikis said.

DNREC already has one trailer, but the additional vehicle is an upgrade over the blander unit.

Both trailers contain taxidermied animals, but the new one displays more than 100 firearms that have been confiscated over the past few years. Rows of rifles — disabled, of course — line the interior. A stuffed duck hangs from the center wall, while a turkey sits in one corner and a deer head rests at the other end of the 27-foot-long trailer.

To fulfill its mission of informing the public, DNREC has also loaded the trailer with pamphlets and fliers, including some eye-catching ones designed to appeal to kids.

Residents hoping to learn about the agency can request DNREC enforcement officials visit during community events.

DNREC travels to anywhere between 10 and 50 events per year, enforcement spokesman Cpl. John McDerby said. The existing trailer has been used for decades and will continue to visit events such as Coast Day and Police Night Out, but the additional unit will allow officers to make more stops — and thus reach more people.

Many people simply are unaware the state has wildlife enforcement personnel, Cpl. McDerby said, and so one of the duties of the officers is to make the public aware and inform citizens how they can help.

DNREC Secretary David Small applauded the handful of enforcement employees present at the official trailer unveiling.

“I just wanted to say a real big hearty thank you and a shout-out to our agents who are represented here today,” he said. “These folks, in addition to being exceptionally well-trained to deal with basic law enforcement, they have to understand our boating laws, our hunting laws, our fishing laws and I gotta believe that they are among the most well-trained unit and officers individually and collectively here in the state of Delaware, and they do a great job.

“They are out there on a 24/7 basis, when folks have a need from a safety standpoint, search and rescue, enforcement. They wear a lot of different hats, but one of the hats they also wear is that of education and outreach. These folks are often the face of our agency in dealing with our constituents.”

Operation Game Theft gets about 250 calls per year, and though not all of the calls lead to arrests, the public contact is welcome, officials said.

Natural Resources Police Chief Robert Legates thanked the agency for the tools it provided, including a new Utility Task Vehicle to go with two smaller vehicles DNREC uses.

The UTV will allow personnel to drive into certain areas inaccessible by car, particularly for search and rescue missions.

The trailer cost close to $30,000, Cpl. McDerby said, with the funding coming from fines paid by game law violators.

Information on breaches of state regulations can be provided to the Division of Fish and Wildlife by calling 800-292-3030. Cash rewards are available for information that leads to conviction for lawbreakers.

Individuals can also request police and a trailer visit community events by contacting Cpl. McDerby at 739-9913.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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