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Fast Five: Law Enforcement Division lieutenant makes sure everyone is following environmental rules

Vence Woods portrait

Vence Woods is a First Lieutenant with the EGLE's Environmental Investigation Section. He works out of EGLE's Gaylord District Office investigating cases where there are alleged violations of environmental law. His duties also include working with the Department of Natural Resources on cases in which they are involved. When asked about his role with both departments, Woods said: "I truly love my job and I am very proud of the important and professional work EIS does." This Fast Five edition of MI Environment asks him about his work.

Tell us about your duties working enforcement for both the Departments of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and Natural Resources.

The best way to explain is to explain how we got here. The Environmental Investigation Section (EIS) was first established under the DNR Law Enforcement Division (LED) in 1979, it was the first in the country for Conservation Officers specifically devoted to environmental investigation. In 1995, Gov. John Engler separated the DNR and DEQ and EIS became the Office of Criminal Investigation. In 2010, Gov. Jennifer Granholm recombined the DNR and DEQ to DNRE. I was promoted to First Lieutenant in December 2010 and began supervising EIS.

In January 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder's first Executive Order was to separate DNRE into two agencies again. A review determined that the State would best be served by EIS remaining under the command of DNR's Law Enforcement Division, but the positions were funded by DEQ (now EGLE). We share training with DNR LED and I am part of the DNR LED management team.

How many other enforcement officers are there and do they work around the state?

I supervise EIS from Gaylord. One EIS detective is assigned to every EGLE office throughout the state, although we currently have some vacancies to fill. EIS as full capacity is nine detectives, two 2nd Lieutenants, and me, a 1st Lieutenant. EIS detectives are fully sworn Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards law enforcement officers and have full police powers throughout the State. EIS works directly with EGLE staff on Environmental Law enforcement, training and legal guidance.

What is your law enforcement and environmental background?

I have been in law enforcement for more than 33 years. I started my career in Oscoda County as a deputy and soon moved to Kalkaska County where I spent nearly 13 years. While in Kalkaska, I had various duties, which included undercover drug enforcement team detective, road patrol, detective and sergeant. I have been working in the environmental investigation realm for more than 20 years. I have attended numerous environmental trainings, but the best education has been working through all of the unique cases.

A lot of your work is on the water side of EGLE, but how do you support the other divisions?

We provide service and training to all of the divisions in EGLE. Although it appears the Water Resources Division utilizes us more, we respond and investigate cases with most of the divisions and have had cases in an array of areas.

In all your years of enforcement work you must have cracked a number of interesting cases. Which two stand out in your mind?

I investigated a case where large vessels were sunk and or illegally anchored in the Cheboygan area. At the court date when the suspect pleaded guilty, he ingested sodium cyanide at the defense desk in an attempt to kill himself. Emergency medical assistance was rendered, and he was later sentenced to prison.

Most recently, as a point of interest to others, was the anchor strike on Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac in April 2018. Detective Bowen and I put the case together rather quickly which led to fines and new laws passed in the straits to protect the line.

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