Dr. Sam Polles, Ph. D.
(2019, May-June issue of Mississippi Outdoors)
Heavy rains caused flooding in Calhoun, Chickasaw, Prentiss, and Monroe counties during the last weekend of February. The flooding made some roads impassable, leaving many people trapped in their vehicles and homes. Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks’ (MDWFP) Conservation Officers rescued 23 people and relocated them to higher ground.
Although unknown to most Mississippi residents, MDWFP conservation officers train throughout the year to respond to these kinds of emergencies. Often, other excellent law enforcement, emergency, and first responders are mentioned in the media during events. However, you seldom see our elite, highly trained, and well-equipped officers featured on the evening news during emergencies. Typically, we are the first of the first responders to arrive at the scene of catastrophic emergencies. Conservation officers are trained and legally authorized to perform law enforcement duties similar to those of our sister law enforcement entities, but most other agencies are not equipped nor trained to do what our personnel do off the roads and highways of Mississippi. Together with other Mississippi law enforcement and emergency workers, we create a team that is essential to restoring affected communities to normal after such shattering events.
Conservation officers are often involved in search-and-rescue operations in inaccessible areas and work to clear downed trees and debris so other first responders can gain access to the affected areas in order to evacuate victims by ambulance. They also work checkpoints to maintain order in the affected areas and assist at command centers.
In the wake of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, Mississippi sent 25 conservation officers from the Special Response Team (SRT) along with 15 ATVs, 10 boats, and additional resources to aid local Florida agencies in rescue missions in the northeastern part of the state.
Waters rose to historic levels on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, and the upstream tributaries flooded inland communities. Following the storm, SRT members staged in Pensacola deployed to the Black Creek, which created more than four feet above the previous record set in 1923. Officers dispatched to neighborhoods along the swollen creek rescued residents in swift water, including a young child with special needs who had a 100-degree-plus fever for three days.
MDWFP conservation officers provide professional conservation law enforcement and perform public safety duties. They must be strong and resilient in order to balance compassion and good judgment while staying focused on the task at hand. Our officers do so with integrity, honor, and valor. I am very proud of them for their exceptional representation of MDWFP.
Sam Polles, Ph. D.
MDWFP Executive Director