(December 2003) On Monday, July 7, 40 men and women, chosen
from nearly 700 applicants entered the Indiana conservation officer
training academy in Plainfield, Ind. By Wednesday, July 9, more than
a dozen had left, and at the end of the first week the class size
had been reduced by more than half.
Those who remained and the 10 alternates who took the place of those
who left endured 16 weeks of intense physical conditioning and completed
more than 600 hours of instruction in areas such as fish and wildlife
laws, watercraft operation, ATV laws, ATV operation, ATV accident
investigation, river rescue, and waterfowl identification and enforcement.
by Ruth Wright
Riverview lodge at Clifty Falls State Park is coming down for
a new building.
On Oct. 24, those 25 individuals, the 27th recruit class, became
the newest conservation officers of the Indiana Department of Natural
Resources in a ceremony in the Statehouse rotunda. Among the recruits
was Brad Wehner, 30, of Madison, Ind.
Wehner, the son of Kenny and Polly Wehner of Madison, is a 1993 graduate
of Madison Consolidated High School and a 1995 graduate of Vincennes
University, where he earned an associates degree in conservation law
enforcement. After working for a short time as a jailer, he became
a Madison police officer in 1999.
Because he was formerly a police officer, Wehner was allowed to forego
the second round of the conservation officer training process, a 15-week
basic law enforcement training program at the Indiana Law Enforcement
Academy, also in Plainfield. Wehner had been through the academy already
Now a little ahead of his classmates, Wehner is completing 10 weeks
of field training under Jefferson County conservation officer Andy
The first years real critical. Its still a learning
process at that point, said Crozier, a 16-year veteran of the
Like Wehner, most officers return to their home districts for field
training. After field training, they are then assigned to a county
or district, where they will serve for at least one year. After a
year, they may apply for a transfer if openings exist.
Wehner has received an assignment in Tippecanoe and Benton counties.
He will move there with his wife, Carla, and their two daughters after
he completes field training under Crozier.
Because there have to be at least 10 openings for conservation officers
before a class is formed, the academy does not operate every year.
Its been five years since the last training, said
Those who apply to attend the conservation officer training academy
must have at least 65 hours of college credit and be at least 21 years
old upon graduation. If these requirements are met, applicants must
then take a series of personality and standardized tests to determine
if they are right for the job. A small percentage is then chosen,
based on the test results, to enter the training academy.
The first six weeks of the academy are especially grueling, according
Pre-dawn runs, classroom instruction with push-ups, sit-ups and running
in place are enough to make even the fittest recruits long for a break.
You dont dare doze off in class, Wehner said. Besides
sleeping and eating to which little time is allotted the
only breaks are on the weekends, when the recruits are allowed to
return home. No communication with friends or family is permitted
during the week. The academy averages a 50 percent graduation rate.
Conservation officers, who have the same authority as police officers,
have the primary responsibility to enforce Indianas conservation
and natural resources laws, but also work with local law enforcement
on other criminal investigations.
Formal enforcement of Indianas fish and wildlife laws dates
to 1897 when the legislature authorized the commissioner of fisheries
to appoint deputies in every county of the state. Evidence exists
that the commissioner did appoint a chief deputy who traveled around
the state enforcing the fish laws with the assistance of other deputies.
In 1889 the legislature abolished the position of commissioner of
fisheries and created the commissioner of fish and game. Twelve years
later, in 1911, the General Assembly authorized the payment of a salary
to game wardens. Prior to the establishment of a salary, game wardens
collected a fee for every conviction that resulted from an arrest