Brian Witherite has a responsibility. And he believes he owes it to our children and grandchildren to take this responsibility seriously.
Witherite, 43, is a wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He describes his career mission as a way to help "preserve and protect natural resources for future generations of the commonwealth . . . trying to make a difference so what we have here today we have in the future."
But taking his job seriously doesn't stop Witherite from enjoying it.
"The outdoors is my office," he said. "It's wonderful. If you're having a bad day what better therapy than being on a hilltop overlooking something like Laurel Hill Creek?"
Witherite's career path didn't begin in the great outdoors. After earning his diploma at Penns Valley Area School District in Central, he attended the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and enrolled in the police academy.
"I either wanted to be a trooper or a conservation enforcement officer," he said. "I eventually worked in retail loss prevention as a detective out in Pittsburgh."
Witherite spent three years at this job, sniffing out thieves and embezzlers. He said he learned that they come from all walks of life and income brackets.
"It was interesting," he said. "You wouldn't expect (these people) to steal from the companies they worked for."
His next gig was at Adelphoi Village, a private nonprofit treatment-based community for juveniles. He provided security there before being promoted to the foster care division. In all, he spent five years at Adelphoi.
"It was rewarding," he said. "You dealt with infants . . . all the way up to the adult age."
While employed at Adelphoi he also worked part-time at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe. But in 1999 he gave in to the "call of the wild" and joined the state game commission.
According to Witherite, a "typical" day may involve handling beavers, patrolling forests and speaking at a high school career day. He loves the diversity, flexibility and uniqueness of his occupation.
"We wear a lot of hats and you have to change those hats quite frequently during the day," he said. "We make our schedules. It's fascinating — you deal with it all."
Witherite is technically based out of the game commission's southwest regional office in Ligonier, but spends most of his time in Somerset County where he has lived for the past 12 years. Though he has six deputies under his jurisdiction, he said that he feels patrols are spread thin — and that some individuals take advantage of this.
"There are a handful of people who hunt and hunt and hunt, and kill and kill and kill," he said.
According to Witherite, many believe poaching means going after endangered animals or simply hunting at night. He said the biggest poaching problem locally, however, comes from those who kill more than the state permits.
"There's no difference," he said. "It's unlawful taking — it's poaching."
Witherite said frustration over hunting violations has led to brothers reporting on brothers, wives reporting their husbands and friends telling on friends.
"The comments I'm hearing from people is that they're tired of the greed," he said. "Everybody in life has a different level of tolerance."
He noted that the game commission website includes a place for residents to report known hunting and fishing violations.
"This is how you can make a difference — get on our website and hit the tip line," he said, adding that these claims are kept confidential and are investigated.
When he's not working outdoors, Witherite is probably playing outdoors. He said enjoys fishing and biking, as well as hunting with bow and muzzleloader.
In addition, Witherite spends time traveling and being with his family. He serves as head coach of the Meyersdale varsity rifle team and has been a resident firearms instructor at the Ross Leffler School of Conservation in Harrisburg. His weapon of choice, he said, is the Glock.
And he said he's proud to spend his work days in defense of Pennsylvania's game laws.
"It's everybody's resource here," he said. "We're here to protect it."