When people are asked to name their hero, the answer often is a parent, a nationally known sports figure or a distinguished humanitarian.
Dudley Sorenson’s answer is different: two 1960s TV show characters — Porter Ricks, chief warden who appeared on “Flipper,” and Tom Wedlow, wildlife officer on "Gentle Ben."
Influenced in part by those characters, Sorensen knew he wanted to be a game warden by the time he was 12. He achieved this goal in a highly competitive field after graduating from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in 1989. He is currently a conservation officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in the southeast district, primarily Lancaster and York counties. Conservation officers, also known as game wardens, are law enforcement officers who help protect and conserve fish, wildlife and natural resources across the state.
“It's a lifestyle, not an 8-5 job. Every day is different, and I love being outdoors,” said Sorensen, who grew up on a farm near Bancroft.
As a conservation officer, he focuses on fish and wildlife, and public safety but also performs some of the same duties as other law enforcement personnel such as responding to natural disasters and recovering stolen property. His work ranges from freeing an elk tangled up in a barbed wire fence to dealing with a DUI at one of the state lakes to ensuring hunters have the proper permits.
“I like being that guy between the poacher and the animal,” Sorensen said.
Although he enjoys his job, it can be dangerous. Most of the time conservation officers work alone, often in remote areas, and many of the people they encounter have firearms or knives.
“It's not so much the animals that pose a danger as much as dealing with people with guns and sometimes drugs,” he said.
Fortunately, the great majority of his encounters with the public are positive. Sorensen spends a lot of time providing education on topics such as hunter safety to civic organizations, schools and colleges. He also taught his children, Kelsey, Cole and Audrey, to hunt and fish and to appreciate the natural world. An indication that he taught them well is that Kelsey, who graduated with an animal science degree, started the archery club when she was a student in CASNR.
Sorensen's undergraduate degree in natural resources with a wildlife management option was a good fit, and he attributes his professional success to the faculty and his advisor Ron Case. He tries to pay it forward by volunteering for CASNR in various capacities, such as speaking to the Wildlife Club and assisting at the School of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Career Information Day.
“We want to get as many people interested in natural resources as we can,” Sorensen said.