By Tim Bennett, USFWS
All Refuge Law Enforcement officers in Alaska take time to visit local schools to let the children know that officers are just people like everyone else.
Too often rural Alaska kids see us only when we’re on duty, which tends to make them believe that all we ever do is "be mean and give tickets."
I wanted to show them that we’re friendly and helpful, and always glad when anyone comes up to chat with us.
The students take the time to see all gear and furs shown by Officer Bennett. (Photo: USFWS)
After all, our officers and rural Alaskans share a belief in taking care of the environment and our resources.
I also felt that I could inform them about opportunities that they may have not known about, point out the willingness that our refuges have to help neighboring communities and give advice on career opportunities. It may be a simple message, but keeping out of trouble, working hard and having a great attitude can open doors for anyone.
I started my presentation with some photos from my family, the first one being a dingy picture of me at around age 2-3, standing in the yard in my “tighty whities” and staring at two catfish my dad had caught in the Red River near our little country town of Yuba, Oklahoma.
I hoped it would show that I’ve been fascinated with nature since I was very little. All the kids giggled and laughed, of course, but I wanted them to see that that I’m just a person, and that you don’t have to come from a big city or be born into a rich family to have opportunities open up for you.
I brought along one of the refuge's pilot helmets and some furs (wolf, wolverine, otter, marten, mink, and squirrel) that I let the kids handle and play with.
I closed my presentation by telling them that they can always call the refuge if they have any questions; whether it’s just to have a "how ya doing” chit chat or to ask about career opportunities or guidance.
Before I left I gave the kids the chance to ask me some questions, and some of them were just great. Finally, I reminded them to stop by if they’re ever near the Innoko Refuge headquarters, because we love visitors!
Perhaps most rewarding of all for me was the fact that the kids didn’t take off as soon as the final bell rang. In fact they stayed and chatted with me for a good 30 minutes after my presentation!
If my memories of my own school days are any indication, that’s high praise indeed!
Tim Bennett is a Refuge Law Enforcement Officer with Innoko National Wildlife Refuge.