On her first day working as a new conservation officer (CO) in Prince George, Nicole Hepp hit the ground running.
Within an hour, she was called to seize a dead moose and take statements from the man who shot the animal. In the following weeks, she dealt with numerous bears feasting on unsecured garbage and continually educated the public about managing bear attractants.
“That’s one of the best ways to learn – to just get in there and start doing your job,” said Hepp, who will spend the next year being mentored by a field training officer. “It’s awesome work. I love the day-to-day changes. You never know what’s going to happen when you go to work.”
Hepp, who spent the last four years as a seasonal CO in Manitoba, is one of 20 conservation officers who were sworn in last spring and are now working in various locations throughout the province. Sixteen of the new recruits, including Hepp, are fresh out of the Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy (WCLEA) in Hinton, Alta. The other four officers come from law enforcement jurisdictions elsewhere.
Growing up in Port Alberni, Hepp developed a passion for the outdoors and aspired to protect natural resources for a living. She made the choice to become a CO about eight years ago and is one of the two women embarking upon a new career with the BC Conservation Officer Service. Her WCLEA colleague, Hailey Deptuck, will spend her first year working out of Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast.
“I think having more women on the job will bring a different perspective, and having a more diverse work environment is not a bad thing,” said Hepp. “There’s a chance to make a difference, no matter who you are.”
Of the 164 full-time COs working in 45 communities throughout B.C., 13 are women, including two sergeants. Hana Anderson has been a CO for nearly three years. She transferred from Chilliwack to Bella Coola last July, becoming the first full-time CO to serve the Bella Coola Valley in years. Prior to her arrival, Steven Hodgson, BC Parks area supervisor, was covering the region as a CO.
During her time in Chilliwack, Anderson was exposed to a plethora of issues due to the area’s high call volume. She also hit the ground running when she arrived in Bella Coola, experiencing one of the busiest years for human-grizzly bear conflict.
“So far, I’ve been focused on imminent public safety issues related to the conflict, but now that bear conflict has slowed down, I will be focusing more on proactive patrols in the woods,” said Anderson, noting every CO she meets brings a unique perspective to the service, regardless of their gender. “My dream was always to be a conservation officer. I’m looking forward to the next 20 years.”