Mississippi’s shortage of state troopers has received much attention over the last year, but a shortage of conservation officers — game wardens, as they used to be known — is also drastic and likely to get worse.
“If we were to place the 22 cadets we have in training into the field today, we would still be 43 officers short,” said state House Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Chairman C. Scott Bounds, R-Philadelphia. “We have 37 counties with only one officer and two counties with no officer.
“They are expecting three retirements on Dec. 31, and about a third of the force is eligible for retirement,” Bounds said.
Sen. Giles Ward, chairman the Senate Wildlife Committee, said the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is “woefully understaffed” even after lawmakers early this year approved $2.7 million to add 22 officers, now in training.
“It is reassuring to know the governor is mindful enough of the problem to give it a sidebar in his budget,” Ward said.
Gov. Phil Bryant in his budget proposal to the 2015 Legislature did not include spending for MDWFP to add more officers, but in the narrative of the proposal, he said he would support such a measure “should additional funds become available.”
Bounds said, “We need to be proactive instead of reactive, not get to the point where we are short 50 officers, then graduate a class a year later. We need to keep smaller classes going all the time and have some kind of funding procedure in place.”