SDSU implements new natural resource law enforcement program

The South Dakota Board of Regents recently approved a new degree program for South Dakota State University that is only offered comparably in four institutions nationwide: natural resource law enforcement. 

Paul Turman, vice president of academic affairs for the SDBOR, said this degree will have a huge effect within South Dakota in the next decade.

“Hunting and fishing … isn’t going anywhere in South Dakota. We need to expand Game, Fish and Parks,” Turman said. “In the next five years, the number of employees with this skill set will increase by five percent.”

Turman also discussed the ease for students currently majoring in other, similar fields to shift into natural resource law enforcement. 

“For students who might have been studying wildlife management, resource management or criminal justice, coursework from those courses will fit into the new degree program. Sophomores, juniors or seniors can realign their path to get enrolled into this major as soon as they want, ” Turman said.

The natural resource law enforcement degree will build a firm foundation for students in environmental policy, natural resource management, criminal justice and conservation biology. Students enrolled in the degree program may also benefit if they double major in wildlife and fisheries. 

Before seeking approval from the SDBOR, institutions make proposals based on feedback from industry representatives and from students. SDSU found that students studying resource management and criminal justice needed accommodation of the resource management skill set.

Turman said the SDBOR will not take credit for the implementation of this new degree. He gives all the credit to the Department of Natural Resource Management and the Department of Rural and Sociological Studies at SDSU. 

Troy Grovenburg, assistant professor of the Department of Natural Resource Management at SDSU, said the process of creating this degree began two years ago. 

“We began working with South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (SDGFP) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approximately two years ago on the idea of a conservation officer degree,” Grovenburg said.

Both agencies expressed a need for qualified candidates in the natural resource law enforcement field and for students to have natural resources, law and sociology coursework. Grovenburg said the number of students enrolled in the new program exceeded his expectations. 

“We currently have 25 incoming freshmen enrolled in the natural resource law enforcement program (some are double majoring with wildlife and fisheries) and we have seen more current students making the switch than we had thought,” Grovenburg said. 

Kendyll Jones, a sophomore, made the change from a major in wildlife & fisheries sciences to natural resource law enforcement. She said a South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks conservation officer she shadows encouraged her to make the switch.

“He recommended it due to the fact that this new major will be highly sought after by employers in the next few years,” Jones said. “This new major is specially designed in order to help educate on both a criminal justice and conservation level.”

Jones plans to take the knowledge she gains from the criminal justice classes designed specifically for natural resource law enforcement and all of the wildlife classes into action upon her graduation in 2018.

“I have always been passionate about protecting and preserving natural resources and intend on becoming a conservation officer once I graduate from SDSU,” Jones said. 

The natural resource law enforcement degree was created in coordination with state and federal agencies. Job opportunities for students with this degree include conservation officer, park ranger, federal enforcement agent, refuge manager and game warden. 

SDSU also received approval from the SDBOR to develop plans on a first-of-its-kind precision agriculture degree and will seek official approval once the planning is complete.