Fish and Wildlife trooper calling it quits after 26 years

Posted: Friday, May 04, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- After 26 years at five different posts, Lt. Dave Lorring is a walking testimonial for the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection Agency.

''I'd do it again in a heartbeat,'' Lorring said, recounting his years as a ''brown shirt,'' the commonly used term for Fish and Wildlife Protection troopers because of the brown shirts they wear opposed to the blue uniforms worn by regular troopers.

''I'd recommend this job to anyone who wants to be outdoors and protect the resources,'' he said.

Seven Dall sheep horn mounts lined the wall behind him as he sat at his desk, testimony to his skill and passion for sheep hunting. The other walls were adorned with plaques and photos he accumulated during his trooper career.

There was a plaque for being Trooper of the Year in 1993. There was a plaque for 2,000 accident-free hours of flying. Mounts of a Canada goose and mallard duck sat on top of a cabinet covered by photos of his wife and five children, all of whom were raised and remain in Alaska.

He has visited nearly every city, town and village in Alaska. The only two places he can recall that he hasn't been to are Bethel and Unalakleet. Along the way, he has ''contacted'' thousands of people -- most of them good and a few of them bad.

Lorring will conclude a 26-year trooper career today when he retires as commander of the Fairbanks detachment of Fish and Wildlife Protection troopers.

For the 48-year-old Lorring, it marks the end of a chapter in his life that he began writing as a young boy growing up in Reno, Nev. From the time he was 7 years old, Lorring dreamed of a career in wildlife management.

''My parents used to take me to the Verdi fish hatchery and the hatchery guys would give you a handful of food to feed to the brood stock and I thought that was the greatest thing,'' he said.

Lorring had grown up hunting mule deer, doves, chuckers and pheasants and he studied wildlife management at the University of Nevada-Reno, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1974.

''The day I graduated from school, I drove to Seattle, parked the car at a relative's house and hopped a plane to Anchorage,'' Lorring recalled.

That was in December 1974. Six months later, he had a seasonal job as a biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Sand Point on the Alaska Peninsula. He was set to go to work full time as a sport fish biologist in Seward the next year when an opening came up with what was then the Fish and Game Protection Division. He ''jumped'' at the chance to become a brown shirt.

He was assigned to Kodiak for his first three years, where he learned how to operate a 42-foot cutter while policing the island's commercial fishing fleet. It was the heyday of the king crab fishery and fishermen were pushing the limits every way they could to make money, Lorring said.

''You'd be on a boat one day checking equipment and the next day the boat would be over and everybody would be dead,'' Lorring said.

In 1980, the same year he received his pilot's license, Lorring transferred to Anchorage, where he spent 11 years, the last three as detachment commander. The next stop was Cordova, where he spent five years as detachment commander. Lorring moved north to take over as commander of the Fairbanks detachment in 1994 after making lieutenant.

Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection deputy director Maj. Jim Cockrell said Lorring is one of the most efficient, hard-working troopers he ever worked with. He was unmatched in an airplane, said Cockrell, who worked five years under Lorring in Cordova.

''He did more with an airplane enforcement-wise than any trooper I've seen,'' Cockrell said. ''If he saw a boat that looked suspicious or that was involved in some kind of hunting or fishing activity and the water wasn't too rough, he'd land and check people and make sure they were all right. Most guys would have just flown right over.''

In Cordova, Lorring was responsible for policing the highly-competitive Copper River Delta commercial fishery in Prince William Sound. It was a dangerous job by boat or plane.

''Flying in the Copper River Delta Flats was the most difficult job we had and he was always flying and making sure boats weren't going over the line,'' Cockrell said. ''He made several big cases out there.''

The five years he worked in Cordova still rank as the highlight of Lorring's trooper tenure.

''It was the best job a game warden could have,'' Lorring said. ''Beautiful country. Big moose. Lots of bears. Good fishing.''

And, of course, there was plenty of illegal activity to keep even the most diligent trooper busy.

''There were lots of opportunity to make contacts with people,'' Lorring said in ''trooperese.''

Lorring likes to stay busy. He runs every day and has run the Seward Mount Marathon every year for the last 15 years. He has the tough, clean-cut look of a marine or a wrestler, which may help explain how his youngest son, Dave, a junior at West Valley, recently captured the 152-pound state wrestling title, even though dad never wrestled.

The closest near-death experiences Lorring has had as a trooper came while piloting a boat or airplane, not dealing with angry hunters or fishermen. Flying in the mountains and hitting a down draft that pushes the plane down 1,000 feet a second until it is 200 feet off the ground, flying across Cook Inlet in an iced-up Super Cub looking through two tiny holes in the windshield, driving a boat in 20-foot seas off Kodiak, they have all been scarier than any person he has arrested.

Despite the fact most of the people he ''contacted'' in the field were carrying guns, Lorring never had one pointed at him in 26 years.

''We've never had a game warden shot or killed,'' Lorring said. ''I think that says something about the resource users. They're generally good people.''

Many of the hunters who break the law turn themselves in but there are always some who try to get away with it, he said.

''We still get our share of joy killings,'' Lorring acknowledged. ''Someone found a dead moose out behind Eielson Air Force Base about two weeks ago and we ran a metal detector over it and it had a bullet in it. None of the meat was salvaged. Why? That kind of stuff still goes on.''

His most memorable case was a three-week stakeout on the Alaska Peninsula in the early 1980s after same-day airborne hunting of bears had been outlawed. Troopers were after a big-time bear hunting guide named Ron Hayes, who refused to give up the practice.

''He was so good at it and he just couldn't change his ways,'' Lorring said.

Lorring and a partner were flown in by helicopter so Hayes couldn't tell a plane had landed in the area and dropped anyone off. ''He was so good he could pick up new airplane tracks on the tundra,'' Lorring said.

The two troopers spent 20 days living in a tent covered with grass, eating freeze-dried food while waiting for Hayes to make his move.

''Every night before we'd go to bed we'd see two or three big brown bears,'' Lorring said. ''I finally adopted the philosophy that if a bear is going to eat you it's going to eat you so you might as well go to sleep and be well-rested when it eats you.''

Troopers finally arrested Hayes, one of his assistant guides and an out-of-state hunter for illegally shooting a bear after Hayes used his airplane to scare it off a hillside.

''That was probably the most fun case I ever worked,'' Lorring said.

Lorring's departure leaves a huge void in the agency, especially since it came on the heels of the retirements of two other local brown shirts--Jim Lowe in Fairbanks and Don Bunselmeier in Delta Junction, each of whom worked 20 years or more. Lorring was also the agency's representative at Alaska Board of Game meetings.

Lorring will be replaced by Lt. Gary Folger, a veteran brown shirt who is currently the detachment commander in Juneau. But finding a replacement for Folger will not be easy.

''We have no one that can step up and fill that void (in Juneau),'' Cockrell said. ''Most of the guys in our division have less than five years on them now. We're making sergeants out of guys with four or five years experience. It used to be you had to have 10 years to become a sergeant.''

Good brown shirts are getting harder to come by, Lorring acknowledged. You have to love the outdoors and be willing to put up with whatever Mother Nature throws at you, be it rain, cold or mosquitoes. You have to be able to think and talk like a hunter and fisherman while at the same time maintain the presence of a trooper.

''You can't expect an 8-to-5 day,'' Lorring said. ''Getting to that sheep carcass on top of the mountain might take an extra three hours and you can't wait until the next day.''

Though he is retiring, Lorring has no intention of going anywhere. There are still sheep and moose to hunt and Mount Marathons to run. He considers himself an Alaskan now.

''I'll never leave,'' he said.

(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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