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Conservation lifelong passion for DNR recruits

June 13, 2012
Many people never get to see a lifelong dream come to fruition, as something always seems to be standing in the way. John Waterworth and Zac Howerton, however, are meeting those obstacles head-on.

The two Marengo men have ardently pursued their dreams and, although there is a decade between them, they have found that they can help each other to succeed.

Waterworth, 38, began his journey as a hunter with an avid respect for nature. He had always considered a career with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources but lacked the formal education required of candidates.

"All my life it's been a dream of mine to be a game warden or conservation officer, if you will," Waterworth said. "I don't know, I guess it was never really an achievable goal because of the educational requirements and then I got married when I was young and started having children."

It would take Waterworth several years to decide to pursue his dream of working for the D.N.R. However, after he worked in telecommunications for years, which led to him being laid off several months out of the year, he and his wife, Karen, decided he would either start his own business or go back to school to pursue his dream.

They chose school.

Howerton's route to conservation was less dramatic. He became interested in a career with the DNR while still a student.

"I was in high school, I did a job-shadowing project with (conservation officer) Dennis Talley," Howerton said, "and, after that, it was really appealing to me."

Preserving nature has always been important to Howerton.

"I wanted a job where I could be outside in nature and keep people from molesting it and keep people from taking away from it," he said.

The process to become a DNR officer has been rigorous, taking almost a year for both Howerton and Waterworth. In order even to receive an employment application, they had to pass a written test. After passing an extensive background check and physical examination, they had to pass a polygraph test. After that came a four-week recruit school at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh.

Waterworth and Howerton shared a laugh when talking about the recruit school.

"We do a lot of running," Howerton said. "It's paramilitary based, so it's basically a boot camp."

Waterworth and Howerton currently are in the field training phase. Once that is completed, they will go to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy for 15 weeks of training before moving into the field. Howerton will be assigned to Starke County, and Waterworth will go to Warren County.

While some people may believe that conservation officers only make sure that outdoorsmen are legal when they hunt, fish or ride, that's not the case, Waterworth said.

"I was on the team that recovered a body from Deam Lake," he said. "That was a first for me, and I hope it's the last for a long time. It wasn't fully expected, to come up on something like that my second week in training."

While he hopes for situations like drownings to be few and far between, Waterworth knows that they will come up from time to time and is prepared to handle the situation accordingly.

"DNR does all drowning investigations," he said. "It's just a part of what we do."

DNR conservation officers are responsible for a wide range of duties, including outdoor education, river rescue and recovery and underwater searches. They hold arrest powers, have an investigative section and must be trained in firearms, defensive tactics and emergency vehicle operation. Plus, some are trained in cave rescue and advanced SCUBA rescue.

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