MCLEANSBORO — Marc Folden of McLeansboro was recently named the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police Officer of the Year.
Folden’s resume includes writing nearly 300 citations and warnings last year. He also volunteers as a firearms and NARCAN instructor and also serves as a Field Training Officer. No question, the 15-year veteran has an impressive resume.
But, there is likely another reason for Folden receiving the award.
“I love my job,” he said. “It’s an honor to protect what I love for a living.”
That kind of attitude is frequently reflected in a person’s work.
“Here in Southern Illinois, people want a game warden,” Folden said. “The other stuff we do, I don’t think really matters to them. It is important; public safety is first and foremost always for all law enforcement. In these counties down here, people think of conservation police, they think of a game warden. When they have a problem and they call, somebody poaching on their property or trespassing, they want us. For me, I feel like I serve the people in these counties as a game warden.”
Folden and his colleagues are no longer called game wardens. They have full police powers and their title, Conservation Police Officer, is an indication of that reality.
“It seems like our duties keep increasing and our staffing levels keep decreasing,” he said. “Every year it seems like we’re doing more and more, a lot more police work than people realize, when our bread and butter is fishing, game and boating.
“It’s constantly changing from season to season. We’re transitioning now, the hunting season to the spring fishing season. Starting the Memorial Day weekend we’ll be water safety, out on the boats every weekend. That’s the awesome thing about this job. You get tired of one thing, the next month you’ll be doing something different.”
The Pinckneyville native served in Henry and Hardin counties prior to coming to Hamilton County 12 years ago. He said the favorite part of his job is working on deer-related cases.
“Right here in this district, this district has eight counties,” Folden said. “We’re very wildlife oriented. We’re like the Mecca of Illinois deer hunters. People from all over the place come here to deer hunt. Hamilton County fills up with license plates from nearly every state. That’s probably what the officers in this district spend the most time investigating, illegal take of deer and checking deer hunters.
“That’s my favorite. My ideal day at work would be doing deer stuff. Even this time of year, there is still stuff to look into from previous deer seasons.”
Not only has the nature of the job evolved during Folden’s career, but he has seen the public’s perception change.
“I think years ago, people thought if they were poaching they were probably going to take that meat home and use it,” he said. “Now, hunting is such a business: people are making money off it with outfitting, people are managing their recreational property to grow bigger deer, and people take one of those deer illegally, it’s like theft. They take it seriously. They don’t like it. They want to make sure the people are prosecuted.
“There is still a lot of night hunting that goes on, fraud committed in the use of deer permits, people using deer permits issued to other people or swapping landowner permits or not having deer permits at all. We spend a lot of time investigating that.”