Jim Casada

Kudos to the thin green line

A couple of weeks back I received pre-publication page proofs for a forthcoming book by Ben Moise, who worked as a conservation officer with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources from 1978 until his retirement in 2002.

The book, entitled "Ramblings of a Lowcountry Game Warden: A Memoir," will be published by the University of South Carolina Press, and they were asking me to provide an encomium (that's one of those ten-dollar word used to describe little snippets of praise that often appear on the back of a book's dust jacket).

After reading the work, I was delighted to do so. I knew of Moise, but in the context of his fame as an exception fish and wild game cook rather than in connection with his profession. After reading his account, which ranges from hilarious to thought provoking while being consistently insightful, I realized just how vitally important the work of such men is.

Sometimes demeaned with descriptions such as "rabbit sheriff" and "'possum patrolman," wildlife conservation officers play a vital and often under-appreciated role which should be appreciated by every ethical sportsman. Sometimes collectively described as the "thin green line," these individuals literally are the line between sensible, safe hunting and fishing and rampant lawlessness.

That's why it is so gratifying to see one of these men who is stationed in York County, Sgt. Todd Campbell, recognized as the Wildlife Officer of the Year by both South Carolina and the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. I've known Todd for some years, thanks primarily to our paths crossing from time to time at conservation banquets, gatherings of sportsmen, and even once or twice afield when he and fellow officers were checking dove hunters. Simply put, Campbell is a model of what a game warden should be.

Particularly impressive is his work in connection with the annual fishing rodeo for youngsters held in ponds at the Draper Wildlife Management Area near Brattonsville. The event has grown dramatically year after year, and the most recent one drew more than 750 people.

While many folks have been involved in making the rodeo an ongoing reality, Campbell has been the key figure in its success from the outset, working tirelessly to raise funds from private sources to help in sponsorship, contacting sportsmen to help conduct the rodeo, seeing that the ponds were well stocked, and showing boundless enthusiasm in his recognition that the future of fishing lies with youth.

Campbell also has an impressive record of making cases against those who violate game and fish laws, even as he presents a positive face for wildlife law enforcement to the general public. He frequently speaks to public groups, ranging from sportsmen's clubs and conservation organizations to school groups.

A look at his work statistics for the past year pretty well tells the story of his energy and efficiency. For starters, he issued 135 warnings. That in and of itself says he is a common sense game warden, one who looks at each situation individually and decides whether it warrants the full force of the law or a practical reminder of how and why a sportsman should do things right.

Campbell also made 235 cases, assisted with 188 others, and worked 357 hours at night. No less than 69 of his cases were made at night (when poachers are often most active), and the majority of those (51 cases) were major violations.

All of this speaks to a dedicated public servant, one of many who ordinarily labor behind the scenes in thankless obscurity. These are major honors (it's the first time ever a South Carolina wildlife law enforcement office has won the honor for the 16-state region which comprises the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies), and Campbell is a richly deserving recipient. As John Frampton, the Director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), states: "Campbell's attitude and leadership set the standard for his unit, region, and state and now for the entire Southeast."

Alvin Taylor, who heads DNR Law Enforcement, also offered praise of Campbell "His law enforcement work sets the bar and he is an example to other officers on how to be a game warden."

It isn't an easy job, and it can be stressful or even dangerous. Yet members of the thin green line such as Campbell serve all sportsmen daily and diligently.