September 23, 2008
Q&A, Beth Fife, Pa Wildlife Conservation Officer
By Kim Hiss
After a brief break in our interview schedule, I'm excited to start back up with a series of conservation officer interviews. I'd initially contacted the Pennsylvania Game Commission, asking if they could put me in touch with a few women on their force. When they suggested a number of names, instead of choosing between them I figured I'd run as many as possible.
So we're starting off with Beth Fife, who has been with the Pa Game Commission for 11 years, and is now a full time Wildlife Conservation Officer in Allegheny County, which is in the Pittsburgh area. Beth took the time to provide some great answers that certainly helped me better understand what goes on behind the scenes. Thanks, Beth! - K.H.
FSHuntress: What made you want to work for the Game Commission?
Beth Fife: I've always enjoyed being in the outdoors, and I love wildlife. I also believe in hunting and trapping and the hunting and trapping tradition.
FS: What are your job duties?
BF: Law Enforcement, servicing nuisance wildlife complaints, public relations and conservation education at all age levels, administration of Hunter-Trapper Education classes, and protection of wildlife and threatened/endangered species. I'm also in charge of the Peregrine Falcons in the Pittsburgh area.
FS: What's a typical day like?
BF: I check incidents, and go and handle incidents if there are any (wildlife complaints, phone calls, scheduling programs, etc.) If it's hunting season, I will go patrol my district, checking hunters and answering any calls that involve hunting issues.
FS: Are you a hunter yourself?
BF: Mostly I enjoy pheasant hunting.
FS: What's the best thing about your job?
BF: Being in the outdoors just about every day, teaching different age levels about wildlife, teaching hunter education classes, and getting the opportunity every chance I get to watch and observe wildlife.
Plus, there's having the Game Commission family across the state of PA -- and it is a tight family. I can also get permission to take my kids with me so they can experience some of my job.
FS: What's the most challenging thing about your job?
BF: I love the challenge of a good investigation. I love the challenge of outsmarting and trapping a bear (they can be a little tricky to trap if I'm in an area that has food sources to attract them, and they won't go into my trap).
I love the challenge of dealing with the Peregrine Falcons every year: climbing out on building ledges 40 floors above the ground, scurrying under bridges 70 feet above the water to band chicks while dealing with mom and dad trying to keep me away and knock me off. I'm proud to be a part of that information and to find that the Peregrine's are increasing in numbers every year. I'm proud to go from 2 building nesting sites to an additional 4 bridge sites in the Pittsburgh area. They are really liking the Pittsburgh area!
I love the challenge of being a part of a turkey trapping team, to help reduce the increasing turkey populations in the Pittsburgh area and move them to other sites that do not have a great turkey population. We were involved with a project with South Dakota, where they had a decrease in their turkey population in a section of the state, and they wanted to try our Eastern turkey. We wanted to try a project (with the help of the Turkey Federation, the Pheasant Federation, and California University) to trade our Eastern turkeys for some of their over abundance of pheasants. With the help of some farms, and Consol Coal, we were able to have wild pheasants brought back to place in these areas that wouldn't be hunted, and to let the population naturally build to hopefully spread out and re-establish the wild pheasant in Pennsylvania. The challenge of trapping turkeys (which you should experience) is hard, dirty, physical, but extremely rewarding.
I also love the challenge of figuring out how to get wildlife out of the trouble they can get themselves into: a hawk out of a building, tranquilizing a bear up a tree and getting them out of a situation they shouldn't be in.
FS: What do you think most hunters might not realize about your job?
BF: Our job doesn't end with hunting season. We go all year round with hunter education classes, school programs, boyscout/girlscout programs, Youth Field Days, investigations, court hearings, and wildlife complaints. Spring time is very busy with wildlife being born all over the place.
We do wildlife surveys of many types of wildlife and habitats for biological information.
We do a fawn study, where if we find a doe that has been killed by a car in the spring, we remove any fetuses, sex them, measure them (this all gives information on the breading timeline of the does, when the doe got pregnant, and when the fawns would have been born). We also remove one of her lower jaws to be aged later to give the ages of the doe having fawns.
When we trap a bear, we tranquilize them and do a full work-up for biological information. We weigh them, measure them, remove a tooth for aging, and put tags in their ears so they can be identified later (which is further information if they get in trouble again, or to determine how far they traveled from the last time they were tagged or recorded). We also tattoo them under their gums with a number from the tags in case their tags are at some point removed from their ears. Then we relocate them to an area that is more conducive to a bear population, make sure they come out of the drug safely and go on their way.
We cooperate and assist other officers from other states on investigations of theirs and ours.
If needed, we can go anywhere in the state of Pa and assist other officers if the extra help is needed.