Newsroom Midwest Region

Tools of the trade: Kids get hands-on experience learning to solve wildlife crime

May 8, 2018

Federal Wildlife Officer Ashley Uphoff teaches orienteering. Photo by Joshua Bauer/USFWS.
Federal Wildlife Officer Ashley Uphoff teaches orienteering. Photo by Joshua Bauer/USFWS.

With all of the popularity over law enforcement TV shows like CSI, Law and Order and Criminal Minds, have you ever wondered what it’s really like to solve a crime? We welcomed 18 kids from the Twin Cities to go behind the scenes with us for a day and learn about some of the tools of our trade as federal wildlife officers. Check out the highlights from this year’s youth game warden camp.

Federal wildlife officers from across the region spent their Saturday with urban youth who wanted to learn more about what it’s like to be a federal wildlife officer. Home base for this hands-on camp was Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Minnesota, in the backyard for almost 4 million people.

What do federal wildlife officers do everyday? Like all law enforcement professionals, we serve and protect, but there’s more to the story. We are entrusted with a two-fold mission of protecting natural resources and public safety. Since America’s National Wildlife Refuge System was established in 1903, law enforcement has been at the foundation of effective management of fish and wildlife resources. That work continues today on more than 146 million acres of protected lands and waters across the country. We promote the survival of species and health of the environment by ensuring that wildlife laws are followed. We also welcome visitors and are often the first U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees you’ll meet when you visit a national wildlife refuge.

“As conservation professionals, it’s important that we invest in current and future generations,” said Federal Wildlife Officer and coordinator Joshua Bauer.

Connecting with today’s youth is, and will continue to be a top priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other conservation agencies. With that in mind, we adapted this year’s camp around what past participants enjoyed the most. Many of the youth showed great interest in wildlife forensics and the “tools of the trade” sessions from past years, so we made it our focus.

Federal wildlife officers gathered in teams with participants and off they went for a day-long adventure, learning just what it takes to protect wildlife and habitat. Everyone had the opportunity to learn by doing, using many of the same tools that we use in real life investigations. Each team had their own wildlife case to work. Mock crime scenes included an illegally trapped bald eagle and river otter, as well as a white-tailed deer poaching. Youth had opportunities to collect physical evidence, draw crime scene sketches and even try their hand at casting footprints. Participants also had the chance to watch a canine officer demonstration and learn how trained working dogs assist us in solving wildlife crime everyday.         

“Our goal with these camps is to give today’s middle schoolers a chance to explore possible careers, engage with local law enforcement and understand the important work that happens across the country by conservation law enforcement professionals,” continued Bauer.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Youth Game Warden Camps first began in 2014 at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Last year, the Midwest Region hosted its first camp at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota. Since it was an instant hit with youth and the parents, we were pleased to bring it back in 2018 for another year. Stay tuned for news of next summer's camp and join us in the field.

Learn more about federal wildlife officers!

2018 Youth Game Warden Camp participants and instructors. Photo by USFWS.
2018 Youth Game Warden Camp participants and instructors. Photo by USFWS.