Agents in Aircraft
planes can follow vehicles wherever they go, even through cities. One fall night in Greene County, pilot Mike Derendinger followed a truck that had been spotlighting a field back to a residential area. He directed agents Mike Loe and Jason Dickey to the residence, where they made an arrest for spotlighting.
While talking to the men involved, the agents noticed an outbuilding with deer heads hanging on the walls and became suspicious. Agent Mike Loe later checked permit and check station records and returned the next day for more questioning, which led to more arrests and to confiscating some of the deer heads.
Conservation agents spend almost half their time teaching people about conservation, but law enforcement remains an important part of their job. Because aircraft are such an efficient means of patrol, all agents learn to use them.
“I’m the one who trains them,” said Cheryl Fey, the Department’s Central Region protection district supervisor. “We do a mock airplane patrol in the academy. They learn everything from how to get into a plane to when they should be using it—and when they shouldn’t.”
Flying in a small plane—often in tight circles low to the ground, or at night while reading maps and charts— isn’t for the queasy.
“Some agents don’t do well in small planes,” Fey said. The ones most immune to airsickness within each region do most of the flying.
“I just need the rest of the agents to understand how the plane locates illegal activity, and how to coordinate with the plane so we can find the violators,” Fey said.
Gene Lindsey, the protection district supervisor in the Department’s northeast region, says he’s participated in plenty of aircraft patrols since he became an agent nearly 35 years ago.
He said agents in his region often fly the Mississippi River and river bottoms in the region to look for illegal baiting of waterfowl.
“We have quite a bit of waterfowl hunting in our region,” he said. “We look for new duck blinds and the bait sites themselves. They’re pretty easy to see from the air. We mark them with a GPS and come back to them on the ground.”
His agents also use aircraft, both airplanes and the helicopter, to monitor smaller rivers for illegal fishing and ATV use in the summer. He’s flown those same rivers in the winter looking for illegal gigging.
“When the rivers freeze,” Lindsey said, “they cut big holes in the ice for gigging.