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OSP trooper saw his future at a young age

TRAIL — The Wednesday call from the Oregon State Police dispatcher appeared rather routine for OSP Fish and Wildlife Senior Trooper Jim Collom during a mid-May morning along the upper Rogue River.

There's a guy at the Cole Rivers Hatchery Hole, says the dispatcher, who caught and kept three spring chinook salmon, one more than allowed. And he's inside the hatchery headquarters right now.

"I thought, this ought to be an easy one," Collom says. "I figured I was going to seize a salmon."

When he walked into the office, however, Collom realized he was the one who got conned.

His entire trooper team as well as the leaders of the state's Fish and Wildlife Division were there in a sting of sorts to recognize this year's best of their best.

That's when the guy who knew since he was a kid that he wanted to be a fish and wildlife cop first learned he's this year's Fish and Wildlife Division Trooper of the Year.

"That was definitely a surprise," says Collom, 47, and a 14-year OSP veteran. "They definitely pulled a good one on me."

Collom is the first Southern Oregon recipient in the eight years the division has awarded the honor, though his six-trooper team covering Jackson and Josephine counties earned the team-of-the-year honor in 2006.

Collom's supervisor, Sgt. Kirk Meyer, nominated Collom for the award as much for what he does as a member of the team as for the extras.

Collom regularly assists Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists on tasks such as black-tailed deer census routes and salmon stream-enrichment programs, Meyer says. Collom also coordinates the financial rewards meted out statewide to people who help bust poachers through the Turn In Poachers, or TIP, program sponsored by the Oregon Hunters Association.

Collom also is one of the top producers of field contacts, citations, arrests and written warnings within his team, Meyer says.

"He does a lot of stuff that's not required, and at the same time, he's the top producer at what he's required to do here," Meyer says.

Colllom says he simply enjoys his work — and his expansive office.

"I love the outdoors. I love the work, and I love catching people poaching," Collom says.

The concept of being that guy in the woods with a gun and a badge harkens back to Collom's youth when he first crossed paths with two OSP Fish and Wildlife troopers while living outside of Bonanza. "I thought, man, these guys have an awesome job," Collom recalls. "I always knew I wanted to be a fish and wildlife officer."

After earning his wildlife management degree from Oregon State University, Collom initially tried but failed to catch on at the OSP. So he took seasonal tech jobs with the ODFW, including one helping monitor a waterfowl hunt to find violators. But he had to hand the cases over to troopers.

"I wanted to be the actual person to scoop them up," he says.

Only Oregon and Alaska have state police divisions handle fish and wildlife enforcement. The remaining states handle it through their natural-resource departments.

That's when Collom landed in Idaho as a conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for nine years before returning to Southern Oregon and the OSP hitch he's held the past 14 years.

Like other field troopers, Collom works a flex schedule that puts him in the field when wildlife criminals operate — late at night, early in the morning and on weekends.

The low months are in winter, when he finds time to referee local high school basketball games.

Although he's after the criminals, Collom knows he encounters far more good guys than bad.

"In 95 percent of our contacts, people are compliant," he says.

Collom has climbed as high in the division as he can short of management. He's considering an attempt at moving up.

"If I don't, look what I have to fall back on," Collom says. "I honestly know I have the best job in the world."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Jim Collom