Michigan's Conservation Officers fight for funding

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LANSING, MI (WILX) -- Michigan's Conservation Officers are heroes, but often don't get the credit that police and firefighters do.

Michigan Conservation Officers may see a cut in their funding.

Over the last four years, they have saved at lease 31 lives.

Now, this division could see more than a million dollar cut to its budget, which could be a loss for public safety support.

When you think of conservation officers, you may think of enforcing fishing and hunting rules, but these officers actually play a key role in law enforcement.

And many times when you call 911, a DNR conservation officer is the first to respond to the scene.

From hit and run accidents...

"The victim had been thrown to the ditch, broken bones, severe head lacerations, our officer rendered first aid first," described Gary Hagler, the DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief.

To rescue missions...

"We had two officers that had to tie themselves off with a line and go down a cliff to save a woman that was about to fall into the ice."

To even active shooter scenarios, DNR conservation officers have been on scene.

"In a court house, our officer was second on scene to help bring that situation under control," said Hagler. "So there are many events across the state that our officers are involved in and valued by the law enforcement community."

Throughout the years, conservation officers have received funding from the Governor's fiscal budget.

However, the division chief is surprised that the House of Representatives is recommending a 2020 budget plan to cut $1.1 million from funding for Michigan Conservation Officers.

"It would be a significant impact to our agency."

Hagler says the cut would cost the state 20,000 hours annually of natural resource protection and public safety support.

"That's the equivalent to having about 5 counties with zero conservation officers in them," said Hagler.

The DNR says they are currently employing about 252 officers, a high for the department.

But with a 20% decrease in Michigan deer and fish participation throughout the past 20 years, many believe the officers aren't needed.

However, Hagler says with some decreases, come increases in other activities.

"If we think about fat tire biking or hiking or kayaking, we are seeing an increase in those," said Hagler. "We don't know where the next emergency situation is going to arise, and if our officers are reduced in numbers, we may not be there. That will have ongoing impacts for that family and that individual because we didn't have an officer to respond."

The DNR tells News 10 they are hopeful that the budget cut the House recommends won't get passed, however the department will adjust to any changes to their funding in the future.

Michigan's government officials have until the end of the day Sept. 30 to come up with a budget plan before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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