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January 15, 2009

First African-American DNR Law Enforcement officer retires

Recent historic events in the United States have made headlines around the world, but history was also made in South Carolina only a few short decades ago. Lt. Ulysses Flemming from Eastover in Richland County was hired Jan. 26, 1970 as the first African-American officer for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement.

"I was making pretty good money with another company at the time when my uncle let me know about the job," said the still lean and sharp-eyed Flemming. "I took a big pay cut to begin working here, but I thought I could make a difference and I really do love the outdoors." Flemming was one of 42 candidates to apply and the only accepted for the position of S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement officer.

Flemming says he had a smooth transition, "Everyone was welcoming and I've made some life-long friends. It was like joining a family where we all looked out for each other." Still, he felt like he had "to prove it could be done" and at one point didn't take a vacation day for over two years, "In those days you worked seven days a week and more, but I was finally told to take a day off and spend some time with my family."

There were times, especially early on, that were trying, "I remember back around 4th of July 1970 when I saw these young men racing boats up and down the Congaree River. I got around to them and said they were looking for an accident what with all the rocks and limbs in the water. They were nice, but said they could handle it." It turned tragic soon thereafter, "A few days later they were out and back at it. I was a piece away from them, but heard a loud bang. And I knew something had happened. I got to one of them and all he could say was his brother was dead. And he was right."

Dedication is only one aspect that Flemming brought to the job even after nearly 40 years in the field, "Ulysses brings a command presence to any situation and he always treats people with respect," says DNR Captain Harvin Brock. "But he has a way of talking to people that puts them immediately at ease. It's a combination that served him well."
           
That air of trust had another benefit, "I never in my entire time had to pull my gun. I unsnapped it only twice and both times those folks stopped and thought about what they were doing and calmed down." Even when he did have to issue a citation or make an arrest he was able to turn the situation friendly, "I was out one day after a landowner told us about some fellows trespassing. We caught them coming through the woods with duffel bags and paper sacks loaded with fish and way over the limit." He had a light moment a few days later, "I saw them not too long after and they laughed about how I got them good. One of them told me if he had known I was coming he would have thrown away those paper sacks. I said it's good he didn't 'cause I would have issued a ticket for littering."
           
Lt. Flemming saw numerous changes over the years from the increasing professionalism of DNR Law Enforcement to the downside of the public growing less and less interested in outdoor activities, "So many kids today are electronically overloaded with computers, playing video games or what have you. I encourage parents to get their kids into the woods." But he is optimistic on the public's changing attitude, "More folks are concerned with improving and preserving natural resources than ever before."

South Carolina has less than 240 full-time Natural Resources enforcement officers who serve and protect the state's natural resources by patrolling more than 31,000 square miles of the state's lands and inland waters. Officers also patrol 750 miles of tidal shoreline and marine waters, to the state's territorial boundary 3 miles offshore and beyond on special federal assignments.

Throughout the state's 46 counties, DNR officers oversee laws and regulations pertaining to more than 400,000 registered boats, some half-million licensed hunters and anglers and the multi-million dollar coastal fishing industry. Officers enforce Wildlife Management Area regulations and statewide litter laws, instruct hunter and boating education, conduct statewide search and rescue operations and perform community service.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.


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