SALT LAKE CITY — In an effort to expand its law enforcement investigative methods, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources recently launched its first conservation officer drone team.
The new Unmanned Aerial Systems team had to complete various licensing and training requirements with the Federal Aviation Administration in order to become certified to operate drones for law enforcement work. There are currently five investigators assigned to the drone team, and they are located throughout the state.
“Using drones will help us more effectively solve wildlife crimes, and having trained law enforcement drone pilots will also allow us to assist other law enforcement agencies with search-and-rescue efforts or any other investigations,” DWR Captain Wade Hovinga said. “Utah conservation officers are public servants, and these new tools will help us better serve the public, whether we’re solving poaching crimes or locating lost hunters.”
Similar to the K-9 conservation officer team, these specialized drone officers will be called to assist with a variety of things, including:
- Documenting crime scenes.
- Searching for evidence and locating illegally taken wildlife.
- Assisting landowners by investigating illegal trespassing on private property.
- Helping other law enforcement agencies with search-and-rescue efforts.
- Assisting biologists with wildlife surveys.
- Documenting boating accidents (available to assist, if asked).
- Investigating hunting-related shooting incidents.
- Investigating wildlife/human encounters.
Conservation officers concentrate their efforts on enforcing wildlife laws and ensuring compliance with those regulations. They also educate and protect the recreating public, and work to promote the value of wildlife for everyone in Utah. DWR conservation officers also increasingly respond to non-wildlife-related criminal code violations and are often requested to assist local law enforcement agencies. Some of their job duties include:
- Patrolling Utah’s mountains and lakes, investigating wildlife-related violations. (Conservation officers patrol on foot, horseback, motorcycles, ATVs, boats and in trucks.)
- Assisting biologists with studies and surveys to help inform management decisions.
- Removing nuisance wildlife from urban areas.
- Helping other agencies with various investigations and enforcement.
- Assisting in search-and-rescue missions, wildfire evacuations and other emergency response efforts.
- Helping with Hunter Education, teaching new hunters about how to be responsible and ethical.
- Enforcing all of Utah’s laws.