Hundreds of wildlife law enforcement officers and their families filed toward a podium Monday on the eastern edge of Little America’s acreage.
On either side of the precession, uniformed officers stood with their hands folded and heads bowed in silent vigil.
Gathered around the podium, the assembly listened as an officer recounted the bravery of Edward Bollman, a conservation officer from Indiana who died in February trying to rescue a man drowning in a frozen lake.
Three bagpipers filled the quiet morning with “Amazing Grace” as an honor guard, dressed in Wyoming Game and Fish’s iconic red shirts and white cowboy hats marched out and presented the fallen with a 21-rifle salute.
The somber tribute marked the beginning of the week-long 37th annual North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association conference.
“This conference was developed as a kind way to bolster camaraderie between (wildlife law enforcement) officers,” said Jason Sherwood, Wyoming Game and Fish Laramie Regional access coordinator and Wyoming Game Wardens Association host committee chair. “Originally, the conference was pretty small, but since then it’s grown to almost 9,000 officers across the continent.”
The wildlife enforcement association includes Canadian law enforcement as well as welcoming officers from across the globe, Wyoming Game and Fish Senior Game Warden Bill Brinegar said.
“We get a lot of participation from Canada,” Brinegar added.
“But not too many other countries have taken us up on our offer.”
Set in a different city each year, Sherwood said the Wyoming Game Wardens Association proposed to host the conference in 2019, but when plans for the 2018 conference location fell through, Sherwood and his co-workers stepped up to the plate.
“The last time the conference was in Wyoming was 1990,” he said. “Not only is this great exposure for some of our younger officers, but this is great for the economy as well. This conference will probably bring $500,000 into the local economy.”
Of the 480 people in attendance, about 270 were law enforcement officers, many of whom brought their wives and children.
“The core of the event is training, and we provide 12-15 hours of (Peace Officers Standards and Training)- certified training,” Sherwood said. “But just as important as that is the social aspect of it all — sharing information about violators that travel across state lines and even simple things like establishing contacts in other states that can follow up on poaching cases.”
While Wyoming’s game wardens split their time between law enforcement and conservation, he said many of the agencies attending the conference were primarily law enforcement. So much of the scheduled trained was centered on policing, Sherwood explained.
“One of the really important training seminars is the health of the officers,” he said. “We are often so busy taking care of others that we don’t stop to take care of ourselves, and law enforcement careers have some of the highest suicide rates anywhere.”
Capitalizing on the locale, the conference is also slated to offer education opportunities specific to the region.
“We’re Wyoming, and we’ve got some tremendous wildlife experience,” Sherwood said. “We’ll present some training on large carnivore conflicts, helping officers learn to handle situations like when grizzly bears, wolves or lions attack a human.”