HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s 27th Class of Wildlife Conservation Officer cadets recently took up residence at the agency’s Ross Leffler School of Conservation, which adjoins the headquarters building along Elmerton Avenue in Harrisburg.
The class, comprising 23 men, will undergo more than 48 weeks of extensive training, including field duty with veteran officers, before it approaches graduation in March of 2008. Cadets were selected through a series of written tests, interview boards and physical examinations.
“The 23 individuals who made it into the 27th Class were chosen from a field of more than 900 applications,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “They now will be challenged to successfully complete the more than 48 weeks of intensive training. Those who pass will join a proud team of Wildlife Conservation Officers, and be entrusted by the public to protect and conserve Pennsylvania’s wildlife resources and habitats and enforce the state’s hunting and trapping laws.”
Training will include subjects such as: wildlife management; law enforcement; legal procedures; physical fitness; firearms proficiency; unarmed self-defense; land management practices; computer skills; conservation education; and public relations. Cadets will be evaluated throughout the weeks and required to meet stringent standards to continue.
Upon graduation, each cadet will be commissioned a Wildlife Conservation Officer and given an assignment within the Commonwealth. Following a probationary period of at least one year, the WCO’s performance will be evaluated and, if acceptable, he will be granted permanent status. Continued training will be required on a regular basis for certain skills, such as firearms proficiency and legal updates. Other advanced skills training may be offered on a voluntary basis.
Of the 23 individuals enrolled in this class, 15 have college degrees; six are veterans, including one that recently returned from a tour in Iraq; eight have served as Deputy WCOs for the Game Commission; two served as Deputy Waterways Conservation Officers for the Fish and Boat Commission; and four had served as full-time Game Commission employees in other capacities. Other careers included welder, construction worker, pilot, machinist, law enforcement/corrections officer, environmental scientist, mechanic and college student.
The minimum age of those enrolled is 24 years, the maximum is 48 years and the average age is 32.5 years.
Officer cadets and their hometowns are: Cory A. Bentzoni, Kunkletown, Monroe County; Kevin H. Clouser, Ashland, Schuylkill County; Derek A. Daly, Narvon, Lancaster County; Christopher J. Deal, Connequenessing, Butler County; Jason D. Farabaugh, Carroltown, Cambria County; John G. Fetchkan II, Ephrata, Lancaster County; Rick D. Finnegan, Hunlock Creek, Luzerne County; David L. Grove, Waynesboro, Franklin County; Lawrence R. Hergenroeder, Marienville, Forest County; Edward A. Herrmann III, Lititiz, Lancaster County; Wayne A. Hunt, St. Marys, Elk County; Matthew G. Kramer, Oakdale, Allegheny County; Mark J. Kropa, Courtdale, Luzerne County; Raymond H. Madden, Red Lion, York County; Scott M. Malicky, Pleasant Mount, Wayne County; Seth T. Mesoras, Johnstown, Cambria County; Daniel C. Puhala, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County; Michael J. Reeder, Hummelstown, Dauphin County; Christopher K. Skipper, Huntingdon, Huntingdon County; Michael J. Steingraber, Wellsboro, Tioga County; Andrew D. Troutman, Clarion, Clarion County; Dennis J. Warfel, East Petersburg, Lancaster County; and Michael J. Webb, Lebanon, Lebanon County.
The Game Commission has budgeted nearly $2.1 million to train these 23 individuals, who will help fill vacant districts throughout the state. The agency anticipates that there may be as many as 30 vacant districts before the class graduates in March.
While not receiving a license fee increase since 1999, the Game Commission benefited from an unexpected increase in current revenues of $6 million, resulting from a high market for cherry lumber. The agency also has maintained a higher level of vacancies in other positions to pay for the salaries of the cadets in this class. There currently are 76 vacancies in the agency, which has an approved complement of 732 positions.
“The Commission has had no choice but to make many difficult cuts in services and programs in recent years as we await either an increase in revenues or a more stable source of funding from the Legislature,” Roe said. “For this agency to maintain services that the public expects and demands, it is critical that we fill the ranks of those serving on the frontlines of our agency’s wildlife conservation efforts.”