Nebraska conservation officer retires after 43 years
By SAM PIMPER
Jul. 30, 2017
FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — During his decades of service as a conservation officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Dan Roberts experienced his fair share of situations that most people would find out of the ordinary.
In a Monday interview with the Tribune, Roberts recalled how early in his career he ran into a pretty bizarre situation. At the time, an effort was being made to bolster area pheasant populations and as a result of this, area farmers volunteered to raise pheasant hatchlings until they were mature enough for release into the wild.
As he was making a trip to a volunteer's property with a large batch of hatchlings, the box of birds he was transporting tipped over in his vehicle.
"They came in boxes of about 50 to 100 birds. We shipped them in from out of state from a hatchery," Roberts said. "So at the time I had a full-size car, and I remember that one of those boxes upset and all these little pheasant chicks that are 2 days old are all over my car — underneath all the seats and behind everything. So when I stopped at the farm I spent a lot of time trying to locate all the little pheasant chicks, all 100 of them."
That's something Roberts will always remember, that and how the farmer was so willing to help him locate all the birds hopping around in his vehicle.
On July 7, Roberts retired from his position after 43 years of working for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in Dodge and Colfax counties, which cover an approximately 1,000-square-mile territory. From 4-7 p.m. Friday, co-workers, family members and those close to him are celebrating his notable career at the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area.
"He's really going to be missed. He's pretty much known by everyone in our area," said Bill Booth, park superintendent No. 3 at the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area. "He's such a composed, helpful guy, whose put in a lot of years in a really busy area. The way he has always dealt with people has been outstanding, and he's just such a kind, hardworking person who will really be missed by the Game and Parks."
Roberts, who grew up in Wayne, Nebraska, and attended Wayne State College, always had a passion for animals and the outdoors. He was immersed in all of it growing up on his parents' farm. After bouncing ideas around in his head regarding possible career options as a freshman and sophomore at Wayne State, he settled on biology as a major. Science, he said, is something he's always gravitated toward.
In September 1972, Roberts married his high school sweetheart, Jan, and in 1973 graduated from Wayne State. In 1974, Roberts became a conservation officer in Dodge and Colfax counties, earning the position over approximately 300 candidates who passed the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's written exam.
Roberts, 65, spent the next 40-plus years traveling back and forth between Dodge and Colfax counties doing the job he loved.
"The job pretty much is to protect all of the outdoor resources that we have," Roberts told the Fremont Tribune . "It's all about enforcing the rules and protecting the environment. The animals, environment and fish, and also keeping people participating in all the outdoor activities safe."
Something people may not know, Roberts said, is that all conservation officers are law enforcement agents. They are the police of the outdoors. Interestingly enough, though, game wardens generally don't have backup like other police officers.
During his entire career, Roberts ran a one-man show in the two counties. He was on-call every day of the week. Even on the two days each week he was technically "off," if any problems arose he had to respond accordingly. And having any weekend off was out of the question; even vacation time had to be scheduled Monday through Thursday.
"From Day One that has been the way it is," he said of working weekends. "That's when the outdoorsmen that you are in charge of enforcing the law for, that's when they are doing it. All the hunting and fishing and boating activities, that's when the vast majority of it happens."
While enforcing the law is of the utmost importance to Roberts, he emphasized how his encounters with most people were positive ones. As a game warden, Roberts' contact information was available to outdoors lovers through a wide variety of outlets. So he'd receive calls in many capacities, not just from people seeing others commit crimes.
"One of the big differences between us and a normal police officer in the field is that a lot of the contacts we have are not because of a problem or a negative, it's a lot of random contacts to see how people are doing, and most of the time people are doing everything they want to do in their time off the right way," he said.
In the summer months, Roberts said he'd spend a lot of time at the Fremont Lakes monitoring fishing and boating activities, and during the colder months he'd spend more time in Colfax County dealing with hunters.
"A lot of it depends on the season," Roberts said of how he allocated his time between counties. "For most of my career, there has been a little more hunting going on in Colfax County, but more water-based — boating, camping and fishing — in Dodge County. During the summer, I spend almost all of my time in Dodge County because of the Fremont lakes, which is a Nebraska Game and Parks facility."
The common denominator between counties was that Roberts was always spending time with people. He will miss that. He will miss answering the questions and helping people. He will miss using his job to help young people get excited about hunting and fishing through the numerous clinics and expos he's participated in around the state.
"There aren't as many country kids as there were 40 years ago," he said. "The migration has been from country to town, so there are fewer people who have grown up hunting and fishing in the country, so we as Game and Parks are trying to get town kids involved in outdoors stuff."
And while it's difficult stepping away, Roberts is excited to spend more time with Jan, as well as with his three grown children, Tad, Eric and Dustin. He will visit Denver more frequently to see his four grandchildren. He will get to appreciate the outdoors a little differently.
"I will definitely get to enjoy it from a little bit of a different angle," he said.
Booth said while he's excited for Roberts to enjoy retirement, he knows the Game and Parks Commission, as well as the outdoor communities of Dodge and Colfax counties, will at least momentarily be missing one important tool from their belt.
"His job description truly went all the way from A to Z, and he really did do it wonderfully for 40-plus years," Booth said.
Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com