New conservation officers take charge
It’s easy to foster a love of the outdoors in Indiana County.
That love has come full circle for two area residents, part of the most recent graduating class of the Ross Leffler School of Conservation, who will help serve the community and the outdoors as new Wildlife Conservation Officers with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Christopher Reidmiller, 27, of Homer City, has been assigned to work in southern Indiana County, and Ned Kimmel, 26, of Indiana, will work in northern Somerset County.
“I’m looking forward to being able to go out and just spend time outside for the rest of my career,” Reidmiller said. “I think what brought us all here is we love being outdoors and we love being in the woods. Now that’s our job.”
“Overall, our goal is to conserve and protect our natural resources, basically,” Kimmel said, “and that would be wildlife and the outdoors. Everything about our goal is to conserve and protect and also help provide opportunities for people around us.”
Wildlife Conservation Officers are field officers of the Game Gommission. They enforce the Game and Wildlife Code in addition to other law enforcement duties. Reidmiller and Kimmel graduated from the conservation school on March 9 after a 50-week training program.
“This is the top of the mountain for me,” Reidmiller said. “I was a military policeman. I always wanted to be in law enforcement; I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do. I thought about it, I read some things on the Internet about the position, and it finally clicked that it combines my love of being outdoors with my interest in law enforcement. It was pretty much the perfect fit for me.”
Kimmel grew up in the area and went to IUP, while Reidmiller is originally from Herminie, introduced to the area by his wife, Carrie, a Homer City native.
“The love of the outdoors began when I was 8 years old, the first time my dad took me trout fishing,” Reidmiller said. “Like a lot of western Pennsylvania boys and girls now that started with trout fishing, I went to deer hunting and small game. It just turned into taking hikes, and I just love being outdoors.”
“I grew up in a hunting family and an outdoors kind of family,” Kimmel said. “I saw a lot of people growing up just abusing that resource, the wildlife resource, and I felt like I really wanted to serve something that doesn’t really have a voice. That was one of my goals as far as pursuing the career.”
Firsthand experience in Indiana County’s coal industry has also helped shape Kimmel. He started working in mines at age 16 and continued through summers in college — he graduated from IUP with a communications degree in 2008.
“I started working in the coal industry at surface mines, and then more recently I worked in some deep mines,” he said. “I got to see the use of natural resources from that perspective, and I want to be able to protect it now, too. I got to see how you can use it in a productive way and a responsible way, and I have a desire to protect those things, too.”
A workday can take an officer from one task to a different one on a moment’s notice.
“It’s something different every day, even every single hour,” Kimmel said. “I’ll be coming down the road getting ready to talk to a landowner about maybe signing up into one of our cooperative programs for his land and I’ll get a call about a bear complaint, where a sick bear is causing problems, and I’ll have to go respond to that. It’s really varied, and it keeps you on your toes, so there’s never really a dull moment.”
“The best part about the job is there’s no typical day,” Reidmiller said. “I try to make a list of things I want to get accomplished in the day. Then an officer told me, take that list, write it down, then ball it up and throw it away, because it’s not going to happen. We get pulled in a lot of different directions a lot. It’s a big part of anybody that comes in. You need to be flexible, and you need to be able to not get frustrated when the plan changes halfway through the day, so there is no typical day.”
The range of responsibilities includes outreach, such as overseeing hunter education programs or visiting schools.
That’s another big part of the job for Reidmiller, who replaces longtime Indiana County officer Jack Lucas.
“I moved up here, I worked in a state prison for a few years, and I just really fell in love with the area, and I was fortunate enough to get assigned here out of training school,” Reidmiller said.
“My goal is to do (Lucas’) legacy justice, to do the agency’s mission here justice and be a credit to the agency.”