Off-road warriors: Conservation officers patrol mountains to beaches

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --  Senior Airman Jeremy Lawrence, a 30th Security Forces Squadron conservation officer, grooms Judd, a 22 year old quarterhorse. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nathaniel Prost)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Senior Airman Jeremy Lawrence, a 30th Security Forces Squadron conservation officer, grooms Judd, a 22 year old quarterhorse. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nathaniel Prost)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Policing more than 100,000 acres of land is a formidable task, especially at Vandenberg with its mountains, woodlands and beaches. How do you patrol where there are no roads? 

The 30th Security Forces Squadron's conservation flight does just that, employing a variety of methods, from all-terrain vehicles to horseback riding to walking on foot. It's all done to protect Team V and its assets, as well as the natural habitat the base is charged with protecting. 

Doing everything from search and rescue to safety checks of hunters, the conservation flight is busy year-round. 

"Although it is hard work, it is enjoyable," said Senior Airman Jeremy Lawrence, a 30th SFS conservation officer. "For people who are into being outdoors, it doesn't seem like work." 

Enjoying nature is only one of the prerequisites for the position. These security forces members must also interact with the public, speaking with hikers, fisherman, hunters and anyone else enjoying Vandenberg's wide array of natural beauty. In order to do their job, however, they must change their tactics with the seasons. 

In the summertime it's plover season. Conservation officers spend a lot of time on the beaches between March 1 and Sept. 30 ensuring nobody goes into enclosed wildlife habitats. 

"You get a lot more people on the beaches in the summertime as the weather gets nicer, so you deal with the public a lot being down there at Surf Beach," Airman Lawrence said. 

Fishing season keep them at the beach as well, especially with new restrictions making about 12-15 miles of Vandenberg's shoreline a marine protected area. This restriction does not allow fishing, nor does it allow taking rocks or shells off the beach. 

Come deer season, conservation officers begin spending more time in the woods. They switch from foot patrols on the beach to ATVs and horses through the rugged terrain. When pig season arrives, the officers begin riding their horses more. 

"We're not as busy and the beaches aren't closed, so we're able to get out there and patrol the beaches on horseback as well," Airman Lawrence said. 

Just because they're patrolling hunting and fishing areas does not mean they're out to bust everyone. Conservation officers do safety checks and are there to answer questions regarding hunting rules and regulations on base. While they follow federal and state regulations, they also enforce Space Wing Instruction 32-701. This instruction is briefed to all hunters who come through the conservation office for a Form 216, which gives the hunters permission to hunt on Vandenberg. 

Besides enforcing outdoor recreation laws, conservation officers also assist those who find themselves in trouble. Recently, Airman Lawrence and his team helped paramedics reach a man who was in the middle of Vandenberg's backcountry with heart problems. 

"He was up on top of a road and called saying his internal defibrillator ended up zapping him because he got too excited," Airman Lawrence said. "He was in a location where it was difficult for him to get down." 

Through the conservation officers' efforts, paramedics helped stabilize the man and get him to a hospital. 

No matter the job, Airman Lawrence said he loves the work he does as a conservation officer. 

"I'm given a set of keys and I can go anywhere in the 1,000 acres on patrol," he said. "Having that freedom to be able to get out there and interact with the public a lot, you run into a lot of people throughout your day. That's what I enjoy about it - that freedom to roam about the base and do my job."