Nationally, community college enrollments have been declining in the past couple of years. Wyoming is no exception. In Powell, Northwest College's enrollment is among the lowest in the state. So the college is looking at some new degree programs to try to turn things around. That includes a conservation law enforcement degree.
"Alright, let's get started folks. Today, I wanted to do an overview of the national forests," said Tony Enerva to a full class of students. He's the professor of the conservation law enforcement degree at Northwest college.
Enerva is originally from Maine, where he helped start a conservation law enforcement degree program there. He said when he applied for his position in Powell, he was surprised Wyoming didn't have a similar program.
"There's a need for rangers, park police, the Bureau Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, National Recreation Areas," said Enerva. "All of them have a need for law enforcement. They have their own law enforcement jurisdictions."
According to Enerva, there are only seven community colleges and six four-year schools in the country with conservation law enforcement degrees. The closest one is in Greeley, Colorado. So to him, it was a no brainer that Wyoming with two national parks and plenty of national forest land could use such a program.
"[These are] some [examples of] new programs we're looking at implementing to be able to meet the workforce needs of the area," said Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa.
She said as a result of the declining enrollment, the college is trying to serve more than just high school graduates in the region.
"Give employers the educated workforce they need and then to also give students in the area whether they are graduates or adults that have thought about going back to college an opportunity that they may not had before," said Hicswa.
Hicswa said new trade programs, like the two year conservation law enforcement degree, fits this new approach perfectly. They looked at the Department of Labor Statistics and chatted with employers in the area and realized there is a need for law enforcement personnel in national parks, national forest land and wilderness areas.
Scott Werbelow is the game warden supervisor for Wyoming Game and Fish Department in the Cody region. When Werbelow graduated from high school, there was no easy way to get trained to become such a thing as a ranger or a game warden. So he ended up taking a long winding path that included temporary jobs with Game and Fish until a game warden position opened up.
"It's went from being incredibly difficult to get hired to now we're looking for folks," he said.
More jobs are opening up as baby boomers are retiring. Werbelow points out that one of the attractive things about the Northwest College program is that people can get qualified to work for an agency like Game and Fish in two years.
"Having this program in Powell, right in the heart of Wyoming, and all the abundance of wildlife in the Cody area and the interest in hunting and fishing with students coming up [makes sense]," said Werbelow. "I think having that opportunity [here] versus having to go to Laramie will gather another pool of good candidates."
However, if people are interested in becoming something like a game warden or entering into a management position quickly their credits may transfer to the University of Wyoming more easily than they have in the past. People can also become a game warden by simply getting the two year degree but that will require a few years of field experience.
Tony Delanghe hopes to become one of the first students to graduate with a conservation law enforcement degree this may and he's excited about his future.
"I'm looking at the National Park Service and getting in with the Forest Service. Although there are only two ranger slots available here in the Cody region," said Delanghe, as he hopes to be able to stay in the area he grew up in.
Northwest College hopes it's program will not only meet local needs but also needs throughout the region.