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Brookhaven’s Smith is top warden

A gunshot breaks open the quiet of night. A poacher has scored a buck after-hours, and he thinks no one will know.

Sheila Smith knows.

Some shady folks are meeting at the lake for a drug deal. Anyone can grab a $2 ticket and head to the shore. No one will know.

Sheila Smith knows.

Someone’s boating and drinking, speeding at a state park or knocking down ducks out of season. Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Master Sergeant Sheila Smith always finds out.

That’s why MDWFP has named her the 2017 Conservation Officer of the Year, making her the first female game warden to win the award. She’ll receive it at the 58th Mississippi Conservation Achievement Awards Luncheon on Feb. 15, at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Jackson.

“Part of me thinks, ‘that’s just me doing my job.’ That’s what we do. But the other part of me is pretty honored,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of hard work, and being named Conservation Officer of the Year is like a reward for all the hours and long nights.”

The Port Gibson native has lived in Brookhaven and patrolled Lincoln County for 14 years, and 2017 may have been her busiest year yet. Last year, she wrote a total of 124 citations, including 11 felonies and three Class I wildlife violations, and made numerous arrests for drug possession, parole violations, felons with firearms and more.

She recorded more felony arrests than any other conservation officer in Mississippi.

“We stay real busy during deer season. We always look forward to getting a breather in February. Last February, I kept looking for my break and never got it,” Smith said. “I never got done working on reports. So far, it hasn’t slacked up any this year, either.”

Smith’s duties are numerous and varied.

Making felony arrests grabs attention, but Smith also performs the tasks of an old school, neighborly game warden — checking licenses, teaching hunter’s education to youth, teaching boater’s education, working accidents, overseeing fishing rodeos, speaking at churches and local schools.

Smith is a Field Training Officer for MDWFP, mentoring new officers assigned to the region in 12-month stints.

She also volunteers for the wildlife department’s successful Archery in Mississippi Schools Program, working the regional and state tournaments every year. She previously coached the archery team at Brookhaven Academy, leading them to a title in 2015.

Smith is on the board for the Lincoln County Wildlife Expo and she and her husband, Steve, are supporters of Brookhaven Animal Rescue League. Much of her time with MDWFP is spent rescuing and releasing wildlife.

Although not part of her assigned duties, Smith is also leading the way in another important area of law enforcement of MDWFP — she’s cutting out a trail for women to enter the profession.

“We have three female conservation officers in Mississippi now. I was the only one for 12 years, until last year,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot of women interested in sitting in the woods all night — it’s mainly a man’s job because that’s who you’re dealing with most of the time. But I grew up hunting and fishing. For me, a game warden is what I always wanted to be.”

Maj. Lane Ball, MDWFP’s South Region Administrator, said one of Smith’s most impressive qualities is her ability to interact with the public — a common requirement of a game warden that’s not easy for everyone.

“When somebody calls with a problem, and they’re mad and they want things done, Sheila knows how to talk to them and put them at ease,” Ball said. “On the other side, when she’s dealing with violators, she has a way of keeping the situation under control.”