Not Just a Walk in the Woods? Exploring the Impact of Individual Characteristics and Changing Job Roles on Stress Among Conservation Officers

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Research relating to police stress has typically focused on officers working in urban areas, neglecting their rural counterparts. This is especially true of conservation officers, who are tasked with enforcing laws in state parks and other recreational areas. To date, only a handful of studies have sought to better understand their experiences and perceptions. This is problematic due to the fact that these officers face unique duty-related stressors and are increasingly tasked with performing more general law enforcement duties (e.g., drug enforcement, serving warrants). The current study seeks to further our understanding of the topic using survey data gathered from 346 conservation officers spread across six states. Specifically, it assesses whether officer characteristics (e.g., age, education, length of service) and frequency of performing traditional law enforcement duties influence perceived stress. Results of the multivariate analyses indicate that higher levels of education, longer tenures in the field, and a higher frequency of performing traditional duties all serve to increase officer stress. The implications of these finding for conservation agencies and their officers are discussed.