In nearly 30 years as a conservation agent I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of citizens in all sorts of situations. The biggest blessing of being in this business is that the majority of folks I have met have been wonderful, upstanding citizens — even most of the ones found in violation of the Wildlife Code of Missouri. Conservation law enforcement is mostly proactive; we exercise the principles of community-oriented policing and work with the public to ensure compliance before violations occur. Other law enforcement agencies, while they work well with the community, are more reactive, responding to situations because a violation has already occurred.
Unfortunately, some folks do not seem to understand the importance of all types of law enforcement. It is not uncommon for conservation agents to hear comments such as, “Why don’t you go catch some ‘real criminals?’” or “I was just fishing without a permit, what’s the big deal?” While the consequences of violating certain laws are more severe than others, all laws are passed to be obeyed.
In this country, law is split between a federal system and the 50 state systems. In very general terms, the United States Constitution is the “supreme law of the land.” No law can be passed which violates the U.S. Constitution. Each state also has its own constitution. These are the supreme law for the respective states and cannot violate the U.S. Constitution. We also have a legislative branch which is in charge of passing legislation. No law passed by any legislature can violate the Constitution.
The American model of law places ultimate authority in the people in the sense that the people make the law themselves (the Constitution), or mediate through elected representatives (the Legislature).
A circuit judge I worked with in the beginning of my career explained to me that the Constitution is a mandate of the people not to be trifled with. Missouri conservation laws exist because the people mandated them through language found in their Missouri Constitution.
In 1936, Missouri citizens demanded, through a change in the Missouri Constitution, establishment of the Conservation Commission and laws based on science in order to protect and conserve the forest, fish and wildlife resources of the state. However, the will of Missouri citizens was tested during the Constitutional Convention of 1943–44. During this effort to update the Missouri Constitution, those opposing the nonpartisan conservation agency tried to abolish the Commission as it had been established in 1936. However, the people were so impressed with the progress in scientific resource management in just seven years that they stood their ground and reaffirmed what was decided in 1936. Once again, a mandate of the people was sounded.
A court decision in 1906 confirmed the criminal nature of fish and game law violations in a case cited as State ex rel Rodes v. Warner. The criminal nature of such violations was codified by the General Assembly in 1945. In other words, it is a crime to violate the Wildlife Code. Conservation agents of the Department take an oath to enforce these rules and will continue to do so with integrity, as mandated by the citizens of Missouri way back in 1936.
Larry Yamnitz, protection division chief
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