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OUR VIEW: Definite need for more conservation officers

As November wraps up and many hunting seasons slowly come to an end, it's important for us to remember a sometimes thankless job that's so important to our state.

Conservation officers, aka game wardens, with the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department have been working hard for the past few months doing their best to ensure outdoor enthusiasts are staying within the confines of laws to protect our natural resources.

But does our state have enough conservation officers? We think there's a definite need for more.

A lot of game is open for hunting in South Dakota right now. Deer, pheasants and waterfowl are available hunting opportunities, while fishing from boats is a luxury as today hits December.

And right there, speckled throughout the state, are GF&P conservation officers to keep our outdoor heritage strong for the coming decades.

The goal for all conservation officers is for complete compliance — for everyone to abide by laws, which are set to hold game populations at suitable levels.

But not everyone follows the laws. And, perhaps because now's hunting season, we've noticed more people are violating laws.

This month, GF&P has asked for the public's help in a couple cases in Lyman County in which someone shot pheasants and Canada geese, did not harvest the meat and dumped the carcasses to be wasted. Another case from West River showed a large mule deer that was poached and left unharvested.

On the same note, a recent GF&P law enforcement report showed there was a 17 percent increase in violations in 2016 compared to the previous year. Those violations included everything from trespass, over the limit, drug violations and more.

The state has about 80 certified conservation officers to cover about 77,000 square miles. On average, that's more than 900 that each conservation officer is responsible for.

These men and women work extremely hard. They're on duty during nights and weekends and, in our experiences, they're very professional. In addition, they also assist traditional law enforcement agencies as conservation officers are trained law enforcement.

As more people attempt to break state game laws and as all crime rises in South Dakota, state officials need to seriously think about boosting the number of conservation officers here. South Dakota residents and a large majority of the state's tourists love the outdoor opportunities we have.

To keep those traditions strong, GF&P's law enforcement agency could use a boost.