As another legislative session nears a close, law-enforcement officers with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) remain hopeful they will get the same respect, in terms of salary, that other law-enforcement agencies have garnered.
Last month 75 conservation rangers showed up at the Capitol to speak with legislators and distribute documents that show the work they do and the problem with salary discrepancies. Those documents are shown on the next two pages.
The Capitol contingent were members of the Conservation Ranger Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) lodge. The lodge was formed by rangers last year when it became clear that, without a proactive effort on their part, salary issues would continue to cause rangers to be recruited away to law-enforcement positions at other agencies.
As was first reported by GON more than a year ago, salary issues, combined with significant hits on staff numbers and inadequate equipment due to DNR budget cuts, have taken a toll on the morale of DNR’s law-enforcement rangers.
According to an article provided by the Conservation Ranger FOP, “The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which was the first state law-enforcement agency organized in 1911, is experiencing problems in retaining experienced conservation rangers. Salaries and benefits offered by federal, local and other state law-enforcement agencies have increased more than ranger benefits and have resulted in a retention issue and a loss of trained and experienced rangers.
“In recent years, 24 experienced rangers have resigned primarily for financial reasons. Prior to this nearly all vacancies occurred only through retirement,” the FOP article stated.
Another issue is there are far fewer rangers doing more work. Budget cuts have reduced the number of rangers by 18 percent in recent years. From a high of 252 sworn officers, DNR Law Enforcement now has only 207. As shown on bottom of the opposite page, 22 percent of Georgia’s counties do not have a ranger.
The FOP article said, “The work force has been reduced by 45 rangers while the state’s population continues to grow, and fewer rangers are called upon to do more. Georgia has one conservation ranger for every 42,792 citizens, compared to Florida which has one conservation ranger for every 25,207 citizens, and South Carolina which has one conservation ranger for every 15,068 citizens. These permanent cuts and unfilled vacancies have resulted in the remaining rangers having to cover larger patrol areas — in some cases one ranger covering three counties. This situation reduces the rangers’ effectiveness and efficiency, increases agency operating costs and adversely impacts customer service.”
Sgt. Stan Elrod, president of the Conservation Ranger FOP, said response from legislators is good.
“For the most part, they say they’re dedicated to help us,” Sgt. Elrod said. “But we still don’t know what that help will be. We haven’t seen anything proposed yet. It has us wondering what they’re going to do.”
Last year, a House of Representatives study committee said DNR conservation rangers, along with officers from other state law-enforcement agencies, deserved better — and equitable — pay. State Troopers got that help last year. It is expected that GBI will get help this year.
“There are people who already don’t remember that study-committee report,” Sgt. Elrod said.
Also, it was a Public Safety study committee that made the recommendations. Conservation Rangers aren’t under Public Safety, they’re under Natural Resources. Whether that will be a factor that could leave rangers out yet again remains to be seen.
Each year that goes by without help for rangers means sportsmen risk losing more men and women we depend on. And as the FOP documents show, it’s not just sportsmen who depend on conservation rangers.