Nature’s lone ranger

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DON RATZLAFF
Sometimes the best thing about public recognition is not so much that someone acknowledges you?re doing good work, it?s that someone acknowledges you?re there at all.

Just ask Marvin Peterson, who roams the prairies and lakes of all of Marion County and half of Morris County as the only wildlife conservation officer for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Peterson recently was named ?Conservation Officer of the Year? for 1999 by the Shikar-Safari Club International. The presentation was made Jan. 26 at a KDWP meeting in Topeka.

?It came unexpected to me,? said Peterson, 41, who began working with the KDWP 16 years ago. ?It kind of boosts you up a little bit.?

The Shikar-Safari Club International, formed in 1952 for the purpose of sponsoring programs that contribute to wildlife preservation, annually recognizes one conservation officer from each state and Canadian province and territory.

Peterson was recognized for his work in organizing special hunts for people with disabilities, and for participating in educational programs among youth, including hunter-safety classes and various presentation in schools on wildlife issues.

Also noted was his positive working relationships with other agencies and his investigative work in wildlife crimes, including the largest illegal commercial big-game violations in state history. That case, which involved several states, resulted in more than $82,000 in fines.

?It?s some recognition for what I?ve done,? Peterson said modestly. ?What means the most to me are the opportunities I?m trying to provide for everybody who buys a hunting and fishing license in the State of Kansas.?

Peterson?s interest in wildlife conservation work began as a boy while growing up near Burdick.

?I actually went to talk to the game warden in Morris County at the time and visited with him about the job,? he said. ?I kind of set my sights at that time.?

Peterson, a 1977 graduate of Centre High School, got his first taste of the work while doing an experienced-based education assignment at Maxwell Game Preserve near Canton while working on a parks and recreation degree at Bethany College in Lindsborg.

After completing his degree, Peterson worked for a year as the director of the recreation program in Herington before being hired on a part-time basis by the KDWP, then known as the Kansas Fish & Game Commission.

After a year and a half, he was hired full-time and worked as the maintenance conservation supervisor in the Cheney-Kingman area.

?I did a lot of supervising of boat-ramp building,? he said.

A year later he was transferred to Marion, where he continued in the same role.

?That was not a problem to me,? Peterson said of the transfer, ?because it was kind of coming back to my home area.?

When the local area wildlife manager resigned in the mid-1980s, Peterson applied for job and got it. In 1992, he applied for an opening in the law enforcement division. He got that job, too.

?From the very beginning, I had wanted to get into law enforcement,? he said. ?I really enjoyed the management position, but I was at a point where (law enforcement) had always been in the back of my mind and I went ahead and made the move.?

As nature?s police officer, his job is to ensure that people who hunt and fish are properly licensed and follow the game-management laws of Kansas.

With reservoirs to oversee in both Marion and Morris counties, his job description is broader than some coworkers in other areas of the state. But the variety of his day-to-day duties is a good thing.

?That?s the attractive part of the job,? he said. ?It changes with the seasons. I enjoy having a reservoir just because of that. You kind of move from fishing to boating to hunting, and then you just keep the cycle going.?

As a law enforcement officer, Peterson takes the same training as a sheriff?s deputy, is required to pursue ongoing training to keep his certification current, and must be qualified with firearms.

Those requirements underline the element of danger inherent in his work.

?Most everybody that we contact, whether hunters or fishermen, are armed with either a firearm or a knife,? Peterson said. ?For the most part, though, I have not had trouble with people when I approach them.?

He has had a few memorable incidents, though, such as the time he and Terry Holt from the Corps of Engineers office at Marion Reservoir were making a routine lights check on a boat and discovered the owner was transporting a sizable quantity of methamphetamines.

?That stuff happens and it?s becoming more common,? he said.

Peterson?s most difficult encounters are with people who are high on alcohol or drugs. But those encounters aren?t his biggest concern.

?Probably what scares me more than anything are the guys you don?t know about,? he said, ?I?ve arrested people on wildlife violations who were felons and weren?t even supposed to have firearms.?

The element of danger in his work is increased by the relative solitude of his assignment.

?The thing about wildlife officers is that you work in remote areas, and you work by yourself most of the time,? he said. ?Conservation officers in the State of Kansas are spread real thin.?

Occasionally, the people he arrests or tickets in the field express their anger after the initial encounter.

?My family and I have received threats before over the phone, and threats have gotten back to me through the community,? Peterson said. ?A lot of times, wildlife violations seem to stir up a person more than a traffic ticket, or even something more severe.?

Peterson downplays the personal danger, and prefers to talk about the attractions of the job.

?I?ve always enjoyed being outside, and I like to work around wildlife,? he says. ?I really like the area I work. It?s right on the fringe of the Flint Hills. I never get tired of the country.?

Occasionally, Peterson has helped save lives following boating accidents.

?Those types of incidents are the good part of it, if you can help somebody out,? he said, ?I?ve had people come thank me for being there.?

But a successful rescue isn?t always possible. ?When you have to work a drowning, that?s a definite down part of the job,? he said. ?It will upset your whole life for awhile.?

Peterson works out of his home in Lincolnville, which he shares with his wife, Lisa, and their three children, Eric, 13, Scott, 11, and Josie 8.

It?s there that he tackles the increasing load of paperwork that goes along with the job.

?Some of my neighbors who see my truck is at home probably think I don?t do anything,? he said with a laugh. ?Actually, my office is in my home, as with most conservation officers.?

Peterson said the competition for jobs is fierce in his field, in part because turnover is so low. Does Peterson seem himself staying put?

?That?s a question that goes day by day,? he said. ?There are days when I would say no. But I can?t hardly see myself doing anything else at this point.

?You?re not going to get rich doing it, but you can make a living,? he added. ?The benefits outweigh the monetary rewards. It?s something I think I?ll stay in.?

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