Conservation Officer Service Armorial BearingConservation Officer Service - 100 Years of Service

1961-1979, The First Conservation Officers

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As environmental awareness grew in the decades following WW II, a Game Warden’s traditional role was forced to change. Environmental protection became a more serious concern as people confronted the many costs of habitat destruction, as well as the escalating health implications of deteriorating air and water quality.

In recognition of their role in protecting a wider range of environmental values, Game Wardens were renamed Conservation Officers in 1961.

These first “COs” would break considerable ground over the next two decades as they struggled with many new challenges. Chief among these was something of an “identity crisis”. By 1961, 14 years since hiring its first biologist, the Fish and Game Branch employed a large number of biologists and technicians in its game and fisheries management divisions. As staff composition and organization changed within the Branch, broadening its scope beyond game laws enforcement, so changed its policy. Specifically, there was a strong desire to integrate a Game Warden’s traditional job duties with a greater number of fish and game management activities. The objective was to soften the public image of the Game Warden as “bush-cop”, and have field staff identified with the Branch as a whole.

As a result, a Conservation Officer's role was blurred considerably over this period. Just as their environmental enforcement mandate was expanding, and so the complexities of the job, officers were being asked to shift their focus. It wasn’t until 1980, when the Conservation Officer Service was ultimately established as a separate and distinct enforcement program, that the internal tension between enforcement officer and biological technician was finally resolved.


Timeline of Key Events

Charles E. Estlin, Game Inspector, Nelson, was promoted to the new position of Chief Conservation Officer for the Game Protection Division. Unlike the game and fisheries management divisions within the Fish and Game Branch, the enforcement program had been operating without a headquarters supervisor.

Frank R. Butler, Director of the Fish and Game Branch, retired after 48 years of service. - This marked a significant change in the management of fish and wildlife. - Butler would be the last enforcement officer appointed head of Fish and Game.

Deputy Director Dr. James Hatter, the first biologist hired by the former Game Department, would replace F.R. Butler as Director.

Following the appointment of Dr. Hatter, the Fish and Game Branch underwent a significant reorganization. For example, the position of Chief Conservation Officer was made a staff position at Branch headquarters with no formal, “line” authority. In other words, while the Chief CO represented the special concerns and expertise of the enforcement program, the fledgling office was denied direct authority over field duty officers.


The Game Act (1914), was repealed and replaced by the Wildlife Act and the Firearms Act.

In conjunction with these legislative changes, the Fish and Game Branch was renamed the Fish and Wildlife Branch. The new name was to reflect the agency’s expanded focus on environmental protection and wildlife conservation, not simply the protection of fish and game species for outdoor recreation.

There were continued efforts to expand a Conservation Officer’s job duties to include additional, non-enforcement related activities, including creel and game management surveys.

The manufacture of a “general purpose” CO was a controversial trend. While some officers appreciated the role of jack-of-all trades, many feared their effectiveness as enforcement officers had been diluted, if not lost among a growing number of technician’s duties.

Under the new Wildlife Act, and by virtue of their office, Conservation Officers were provided the authority to act as special police constables. This was consistent with the long-standing tradition of Game Wardens acting as “ex-officio” police constables.

A ticketing provision was established under the Wildlife Act. Previously, Conservation Officers were required to issue an Appearance Notice, compelling the accused to appear before the courts, for any Wildlife Act violation.
1970 Interest was growing in the standardization of game warden side arms. The few side arms that were in service were of various make and type. Traditionally, they had been passed down from game warden to game warden to conservation officer in a practice that dated as far back as the 1920s.

In an effort to increase the Branch’s field presence, a special allocation of $100,000 was provided for the employment of 65 Auxiliary Conservation Officers.

Almost all Wildlife Act prosecutions were dealt with by way of the new ticketing provision, instituted in 1969.

An experimental pilot course on Conservation and Outdoor Recreation (CORE) was launched on Vancouver Island. CORE was a public education course on acceptable standards of knowledge and skill for safe and responsible hunting.

The Observe, Record and Report program, or “ORR”, was initiated in cooperation with the BC Wildlife Federation and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The ORR program, which continues today as the Ministry’s Report All Poachers or Polluters program, or “RAPP”, seeks assistance from the public in reporting violations of federal or provincial environmental laws and regulations.

For fish, wildlife and environmental offences, other than those involving salmon and offences occurring in tidal waters, members of the public can telephone the Conservation Officer Service toll-free number 1-800-663-WILD (9453).

1977 W. Winston Mair, former supervisor of the Predator Control Division, published A Review of the Fish and Wildlife Branch. The report affirmed that Conservation Officers, in the execution of their specialized law enforcement duties, required a set of skills and aptitudes far different from those of fish and wildlife biologists or technicians.

As Mair stated in his report:

“[Conservation] enforcement is essentially police work, which is a very highly skilled profession requiring training not presently provided to prospective COs. [T]he number of regulations to be enforced is increasing, and the technical/enforcement skills required…demand a group that is not only highly skilled, but constantly upgraded.”

The report went on to recommend that if Conservation Officers were to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex and demanding job, a separation of their enforcement and management functions was essential.

A pilot side arms training course was developed, even though the Fish and Wildlife Branch had yet to establish a policy on sidearms use.

Charles E. Estlin retired as Chief Conservation Officer in November, 1978, after 35 years of service.


R.L. (Ralph) Aldrich, retired RCMP Staff Sergeant, was appointed Chief Conservation Officer. Aldrich’s experience as a professional police officer would bring considerable, specialized expertise to the enforcement program.

An interim policy on sidearms use was implemented. While Conservation Officers were permitted to wear sidearms in the performance of their field duties, they were advised to wear them in an inconspicuous fashion. Further, officers were not to wear sidearms at meetings, at the office, or on city streets.