The Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies named Willard E. “Wes” Stewart the 2016 Colonel Bob Brantley Wildlife Officer of the Year at their annual meeting in Baton Rouge this week. Stewart is a private first class conservation officer for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
“Each state submits the officer recognized as their officer of the year for consideration of this award, and each and every one of these individuals is deserving of recognition and appreciation,” SEAFWA President Gordon Myers said. “Stewart is certainly not only a great asset for his department, but also for the hunters, anglers and boaters that recreate throughout South Carolina.”
This is the second year in a row Stewart was selected as the SCDNR officer of the year, a testament to his hard work day after day, year after year.
A true team player, Stewart has an excellent working relationship with his fellow officers, local law enforcement agencies and magistrates and is quick to offer assistance and include others in major cases.
He takes public outreach seriously, taking every opportunity to meet with church groups, kids at school, hunting clubs and local law enforcement agencies to educate the public on hunting, fishing, environmental and boating laws. He presented to more than 2,000 members of the public this past year.
Stewart believes in teaching youth about the outdoors and setting the example for the next generation. He serves on the sportsmen’s committee at Second Baptist Church in Lancaster and is responsible for planning an annual two-day wildlife banquet that more than 1,000 people attend.
He has worked with more than 400 youth at outdoor events and helped Andrew Jackson High School get started in the Archery in School Program. Stewart arranged for the school to receive an archery kit, and he attended their initial practices to ensure the program got off on the right foot. Today, several hundred youth have the opportunity to participate in the program annually.
“No aspect of conservation law enforcement his overlooked when it comes to Stewart,” said SCDNR Director Alvin Taylor. “He spent countless hours monitoring the Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve where two rare plants were being eradicated by careless users. His effort resulted in 27 documented violations and a much more secure preserve for these precious resources. His work has not only brought positive media attention to this heritage preserve, but it has also increased the public’s awareness of this unique ecosystem and the importance that we protect it.”
The Association’s Wildlife Officer of the Year Award is determined by nominations submitted to the head of law enforcement from the SEAFWA states and territories. In addition to direct law enforcement, an officer is selected based on community service, outreach and education, interdepartmental cooperation and innovations that may be utilized by other officers and departments.
The Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) is an organization whose members are the state agencies with primary responsibility for management and protection of the fish and wildlife resources in 15 states, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. Member states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.