Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Chris Mohrman and I had a long, wide-ranging conversation last week.

Mohrman, who has served the people of Jackson County and much of Southern Illinois as a Conservation Police officer for the past 24 years, is retiring as of Dec. 31. He has been a CPO for nearly 30 years.

A person sees and experiences a lot of things in 30 years as a law enforcement officer. In modern society, a lot of things change in 30 years.

The changes Mohrman has experienced piqued my interest.

Some were expected — the pervasiveness of technology in law enforcement today is a prime example.

Some were disconcerting.

Mohrman said he encounters fewer young people in the field today than earlier in his career. That statement isn’t surprising. Researchers have been telling us for years that the average age of hunters and anglers has been skewing upwards.

It's one thing to reach the studies, but it’s quite another to hear evidence, even anecdotal, to support those claims.

I’m not sure what can be done to reverse that trend.

Today’s society is geared toward instant gratification — anyone who has sat in a deer stand on a cold winter morning or has fished on a hot August afternoon can speak at length about the virtue of patience.

One of the results of that trend is that our society is becoming more detached from the natural world. That isn’t good for our society, nature or the environment. Although we no longer need individual hunting, fishing or farming skills to survive, mankind is still dependent on the health of the planet.

The best way to develop an empathy for our environment is to experience nature firsthand. No amount of documentaries or virtual reality experiences can approximate hours walking in the woods, hunting, fishing, picking berries or mushrooms.

However, Mohrman offered some encouraging words.

In his experience, organized poaching has declined significantly. He cited two reasons, the first being the most encouraging: Hunters and anglers in the field today have a better understanding and appreciation for game laws.

Today’s outdoorsmen understand that harvest limits don’t curb a person’s ability to hunt and fish. In the long term, game laws expand those opportunities. Mohrman made that point, noting that hunting limits for most species are more liberal now than they were a generation ago.

Finally, we spoke about the lack of funding for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Mohrman won’t say it, so I will. The state can ill afford to lose men and women like him. CPOs are required to cover several counties. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that most CPOs in Southern Illinois were assigned to a particular county.

Now, they are spread so thin that it is difficult to handle all the calls they receive.

And, it’s not just law enforcement. Springfield has used IDNR as a bank for the past 20 years, causing the agency to lose site superintendents, technicians and biologists in the past several years. It is vital to the state, and its many natural resources that IDNR replace its most valuable resource — its people.

Public servants like Mohrman don’t grow on trees.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for the Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at 618-351-5088 or email les.winkeler@thesouthern.com / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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