Agent of Change

By Francis Skalicky | November 2, 2006
From Missouri Conservationist: Nov 2006

Nearly a half-century of duty as a Missouri conservation agent has not dimmed Carl Engelbrecht’s memory of one of his early enforcement challenges.

“Right here is where they were, and over there is where they were shooting at,” he said, pointing to an area overgrown with vegetation. The story that followed recounted the day when Engelbrecht, then a young Newton County conservation agent, foiled a large-scale attempt at road hunting.

A local businessman had told a number of his patrons that they could drive to his farm and shoot deer from the comfort of their own vehicles. Many of those would-be hunters quickly found out that there’s no room for negotiation when the topic is flouting the state’s hunting regulations.

“I unloaded 117 rifles that day and told those folks that they had to go back on the land if they wanted to hunt. I told them they couldn’t shoot from the road,” he said. “I wasn’t a very popular person that day.”

Of course, the scene was hard to picture today, as none of the features of the site matched the details Engelbrecht described. He spoke of cars being parked on a gravel road, yet the road he was referring to was paved. He told how people were shooting deer in a field, but the “field” he pointed to was so choked with brush and mature trees that it would be difficult to see whitetails there—let alone shoot them.

The landscape has changed significantly in the 50 years Engelbrecht has been with the Department of Conservation. Of course, so has the Department.

A dedicated man

Most of those five decades with the agency have been in Newton County, in the southwest corner of the state. After part-time employment with the Department in the early 1950s, his career got its official start in 1956 when he took a full-time job as a dispatcher in the Conservation Department’s Camdenton office. In 1959, the Cole County native became the conservation agent for Newton County.

Today, few Newton County residents recall that Randolph Mason was their conservation agent in the early 1950s or that McDonald County Conservation Agent Fred Drummond held the position prior to Engelbrecht’s arrival. For most county residents, Engelbrecht has been the face of conservation for as long as they can remember.

“Carl was conservation in this area before we knew what the word ‘conservation’ meant,” said Newton County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Watson. “It’s always nice to deal with someone who’s forgotten more about a subject than I’ll ever know.”

“Carl has always been devoted to the state, to the Conservation Department, and to his job,” said retired Newton County Sheriff Joe Abramovitz. “I don’t know any conservation agent that’s more devoted to his job than Carl. I think he gets better as he gets older.”

Dark-haired, and with a sturdy 6-foot-4 frame, Engelbrecht shows few outward signs of turning 69. However, when he talks of past experiences, his veteran status becomes clear.

Engelbrecht recalls, for example, the programs he did for 33 one-room rural schools in the Newton County area—none of which are in existence today. He describes the conversations he had with his supervisor, “when I could get through,” on his state-issued 12-watt radio that had two frequencies. (Today’s conservation agents converse on 110-watt radios that have more than 250 frequencies and can interface with city, county and state law enforcement agencies.) And he talks of local restaurants being packed with hunters on the opening day of quail season. “Today, you’re lucky if you walk a long way and find one quail hunter,” he said in a wistful tone.

Adjusting to adjusting

Engelbrecht’s duties—and the tools agents use to enforce regulations—have changed greatly since he first donned his uniform. Today’s Protection Division of the Missouri Department of Conservation includes approximately 200 agents who work in Missouri’s 114 counties. Their duties include educating Missourians of all ages about the importance of conservation.

A job that once focused solely on enforcing Missouri’s fishing and hunting laws now includes duties such as eliminating meth labs on Department areas and providing assistance to city, county and state law officials with investigations of crimes that occur on state-owned land. Conservation agents use global positioning systems, night-vision optical equipment, electronic metal detectors, radio-controlled wildlife decoys, laptop computers and a variety of other state-of-the-art technological devices to assist them in their duties.

Before beginning their job in the field, new conservation agents must complete six months of training in Jefferson City. However, education and testing will continue throughout their careers. Conservation agents must take part in physical fitness testing and meet Protection Division fitness standards twice a year. They also must take part in firearms qualification three times a year. They must receive first responder/CPR certification annually. In addition, each agent must complete at least 42 hours of Peace Officer Standards Training (P.O.S.T.) every three years.

Engelbrecht admits that he hasn’t embraced all of the modern technological items at his disposal with equal fervor, but said that change and flexibility have always been important ingredients of a conservation agent’s job. “You have to adjust to the fact that you’re going to have to be adjustable,” he said.

The art of enforcement

Of course, some skills can’t be taught or mechanized through technology. It’s some of these inherent talents that have made Engelbrecht an effective enforcer of fish and wildlife regulations for five decades.

“Carl is one of the best agents we have when it comes to interviewing people,” said Department of Conservation Protection Division Chief Dennis Steward. “There’s just something about Carl that makes you want to tell him what happened. I would say the straight-forward, respectful manner in which he treats people has a lot to do with it.”

Watson, who has discussed many conservation-related legal matters with Engelbrecht during his 15 years as Newton County’s prosecuting attorney, echoed Steward’s sentiments.

“I’ve had Carl come into my office so many times and say, ‘I caught this fellow, we had a long talk, and this is what needs to be done,’” Watson said. “He is wise enough to know that there’s no reason to be malicious or hateful to the people he catches because those are the people he also serves.”

Engelbrecht says the main component of his interviewing/interrogation technique is courtesy.“I’ve made a lot of friends through my arrests,” he said. “Why? Oh, I don’t know—I guess they knew they were in the wrong, they got caught, and they respected the way they were treated.”

Resource and role model

Working a half-century in the same area has certainly given Engelbrecht knowledge of the land and the people living on it that has proven to be invaluable in the enforcement of the state’s fish and wildlife regulations.

According to Abramovitz, “Carl knows every road and dog trail in the county.”

“Carl has seen everything, knows virtually everyone in his district, and is keenly aware of the unique characteristics of the land and the wildlife it supports,” Steward said. “He has dealt with several generations of resource users in Newton County. His fair, respectful treatment of people— including those he caught breaking the rules—no doubt has played a major role in the great support the Missouri Department of Conservation enjoys from the people of Newton County.”

Five decades of enforcing wildlife regulations has given Engelbrecht plenty of stories. They range from the comical (catching anglers who had stuffed illegal trout into their overalls), to the perilous (working with Abramovitz to rescue several young adults stranded on an island in a flood-swollen Shoal Creek), to the complex (working with wildlife officials from the U.S. and other countries in an international enforcement operation to stop illegal trafficking of peregrine falcons in Asia and the United States). Engelbrecht said his duties have been diverse and frequently labor-intensive, but always enjoyable.

“I think the activities are what have kept me at this job,” he said. “I never wanted to do anything else. I enjoy what I do, and I enjoy making contacts with people. I don’t think I need to retire.”

“When Carl does decide to retire, there’ll be no replacing him,” Watson said. “Someone might come in and take that spot, but you’re not going to replace him. The Missouri Department of Conservation, my office and the general public would all be better off if there were a lot more men like Carl Engelbrecht.”

This Issue's Staff

Editor in Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Writer/editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Designer - Susan Fine
Circulation - Laura Scheuler