Thompson-Cariboo Insp. Len Butler of the Conservation Officer Service said he was caught off guard when he learned he was named 2017 Outstanding Officer of the Year.
“These things go in quite earlier in the year and I did not even know I was nominated,” Butler told the Tribune Friday. “Then I got a call from the chief a couple of weeks ago. He said ‘congratulations’ and I said, ‘what are you talking about?”
Butler attended an official ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 8 to receive the award and meet with the Minister of Environment, George Heyman.
“It is kind of humbling and it is an honour, there’s no doubt about it,” Butler said. “It is great and I appreciate it, but it did make me laugh a bit I have to admit.”
Peers nominate people for the award and Butler said what really hit home was all the e-mails he’s received from officers across the province congratulating him.
“Our MLA Donna Barnett even said something, and she’s across the floor,” he added.
Recalling the wildfires of 2017, Butler said the Conservation Officer Service helped out for 77 days straight working alongside the RCMP.
His career began as a fish and wildlife officer in Alberta 38 years ago when he was given an unmarked truck with a portable emergency light, a pair of boots, a uniform and ticket book, then told to do compliance checks on people hunting and fishing.
Butler was aware he would mainly be working on his own, patrolling large areas off the beaten path and dealing with people who would rather be left alone.
He knew what he was getting himself into when he signed up for the job but he could not help but feel nervous.
— BC CO Service (@_BCCOS) November 8, 2018
“You have to be confident and you have to know your skills quite well. That really hasn’t changed as long as I’ve been doing this job,” said Butler, who started his career in Strathmore and eventually wound up in the isolated northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan.
“I always wanted to get that type of posting. Some of those places that are isolated and you’re working on your own really test you. Your first line of defence is good speaking abilities to get yourself out of a lot of tight situations.”
In 1991, Butler headed west to join the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.
Known for his strong work ethic and extensive knowledge, Butler has worked with the Special Investigations Unit and is one of the three leads for the Predator Attack Team, which responds to human-wildlife encounters and attacks.
Preventing human-wildlife conflicts is something Butler is passionate about after dealing with numerous incidents throughout his career.
On one occasion, a sow grizzly and three cubs decided to make the town of Nelson their home, leading Butler on a nearly month-long chase as the animals feasted on garbage and unpicked fruit.
Eventually Butler figured out a pattern and the four bears were captured and released back into the wild.
One of Butler’s proudest accomplishments is putting together the agency’s Defensive Tactics Program in 2007 for training new recruits and existing conservation officers.
Focusing on arrest and control tactics for officer safety, the Defensive Tactics Program has become one of the best training programs in Canada and among the many accomplishments in a career that still feels like an adventure every time Butler steps out into the field.
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“I have the same excitement as when I was a young officer and I think that means something in this career,” said Butler, who recently returned from a 10-day patrol from Smithers to Atlin where he conducted compliance checks on hunters. “Every day can be different and you make decisions that are going to impact the public, protect fish and wildlife.”
Butler is the 26th recipient of the Outstanding Officer of the Year Award.
As to how long he will continue to work, Butler said another year for sure.
”We’ll just see what happens. I still enjoy what I am doing.”
The Thompson-Cariboo region is big with three zones, three sergeants that report to him, and approximately 18 officers, he added.
“Managing a region is great. I have a lot of good field officers and sergeants. I still get out in the field a bit, which is great. It feeds my sanity.”
With files from provincial government communications.