Conservation Sleuth

Agent likes the hunt for wildlife lawbreakers
Friday, October 24, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:36 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Scott Rice backed his black Dodge Ram into a field between a group of trees so he was hidden from view. Boone County’s newest conservation agent waited only an hour before he caught someone in the illegal act of spotlighting deer.

“I was pumped,” Rice said. “You sit for hours — sometimes days — to catch someone.”

Rice said the offender spotted him and took off.

“I pulled him over just down the road and found a .22 rifle in the car,” Rice said.

The suspect faces a $200 to $300 fine.

The value of antlers often motivates people to spotlight deer, Rice said. Others simply want target practice. “Any situation when a dollar value is put on wildlife, common sense goes out the window,” Rice said.

The successful stakeout was Rice’s first spotlighting case since he replaced 25-year veteran Jim Schwartz in June as one of Boone County’s two conservation agents. He joins veteran agent Robyn Raisch in enforcing wildlife laws and educating the community about conservation.

“I enjoy solving a crime like people spotlighting deer or hand-fishing,” Rice said. “Piecing together clues provided by citizens and recognizing patterns in crimes is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.”

Rice writes an average of 10 tickets a month, mostly for people partying late at night in conservation areas or illegally cutting firewood. These days, Rice is focusing on fall hunting seasons.

It’s a 24/7 job, and Rice occasionally receives calls in the middle of the night. Last month, a woman asked for help in reviving a possum she had hit with her car. Rice had to explain that his main concern is the health of an entire population, not the unfortunate plight of one particular animal.

The most common calls are about nuisance wildlife, such as raccoons in the garage or unwanted deer. Rice said he encourages habitat management or hunting to handle deer problems and points out that bow hunting is legal in the Columbia city limits.

Rice and Raisch also host “The Great Outdoors,” a radio show that airs 6 to 7 a.m. Saturdays on KFRU. The agents discuss wildlife and conservation news in Boone County and award a prize to the first caller who identifies the weekly feature “sounds of the outdoors.” It’s usually a songbird, but it could be any wildlife sound.

Rice also recently taught second-graders in Centralia about the characteristics of mammals. “The kids really enjoyed the presentation,” teacher Angela Willier said. “Some went up two and three times to touch the furs” he brought.

Rice, who bow hunts, also has met with area archers to discuss new hunting regulations and answer questions.

“Rice appears to be a real pro,” Columbia Area Archer member and deer hunter Charlie Langreder said. “We had a great relationship with Jim Schwartz and look forward to working with agent Rice.”

Rice said getting to know the residents of Boone County is one of his top priorities.

“People act as our eyes and ears,” Rice said. “If they know you are fair and approachable, they will call you and report violations.

“The vast majority of hunters abide by the law, so having their help is extremely valuable.”

Rice was inspired to become a conservation agent in 1989 when he saw an article in the Missouri Conservationist that detailed the duties of the job. “I love the outdoors, and I was pursuing a career in law enforcement,” Rice said. “A conservation agent enjoys both.”

After earning his criminal justice degree, Rice became a police officer in Oletha, Kan., to gain law enforcement experience. He applied for a position as a conservation agent but realized that becoming one can be an uphill climb. About 600 people apply for every 15 to 20 agent openings, he said, and positions generally only become available when someone is promoted or retires.

After serving six years as a police officer and receiving two conservation job rejections, Rice decided he needed to improve his resume. He completed a fisheries and wildlife degree in three years at MU. Rice also gained experience with the conservation department by spraying invasive weeds and surveying and studying Missouri songbirds.

Rice finally obtained a position as a conservation agent in Jackson County in 1999, but he wanted to work in a more rural atmosphere. After serving four years in Jackson County, Rice heard Schwartz was retiring from Boone County and he applied for his job.

“Moving to Boone County was a professional and personal decision,” Rice said. “I wanted my kids to be in a smaller school environment, and Boone county offers a variety of habitats and beautiful country.”

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