Vatter to Retire in February
Inside the Outdoors, January
11, 2013

It has been brought to my attention by Thomas Qualters, regional supervisor of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Somerset office, that Waterways Conservation Officer Jim M. Vatter, will retire as of Feb. 1, 2013.

Well known by many anglers and officers of conservation groups such as the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Vatter frequented the monthly FTTU meetings informing members and visitors as to the recent updates that the PFBC could disclose to the listeners.

“The area’s greatest anglers will miss Jim the most,” said Monty Murty, president of the Latrobe-based organization, “especially the more than 400 members of which he is a long serving member. He was particularly well suited to the more satisfying tasks of those we used to call Fish Wardens; preserving our watershed as habitat for fish, advising conservation organizations restoring impaired streams, managing trout stocking as a recreational resource, and teaching new generations of anglers. Jim’s legacy will always be his contribution to the local trout angling community, old and young alike. A professional class fly tier, he often donated boxes of custom tied flies to our banquets.”

Murty went on to add, “Jim was a guest teacher in TU’s local Trout in the Classroom projects at Ligonier and Latrobe schools and their youth conservation and fly fishing programs. It’s always gratifying to see young anglers look up to the big man with a badge and say, ‘Yes Sir.’ As a public servant, WCO Jim Vatter delivered to the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania the environmental law enforcement from which good citizenship is made,” he said.

Well liked, Vatter was hired as a deputy WCO in Westmoreland County in the 1980’s for Don Hyatt. Ten years later, in 1990, he was hired as a WCO working out of the Somerset office there for three years until his move to York County in 1993. It was then on to Greene County from 1994 to 1996. The following year, he was moved back to the Somerset office where he was assigned to cover Westmoreland County. Vatter has been a WCO there ever since, serving the northern part of the region.

A past veteran with the United States Army, Vatter has reported on numerous activities while in office. Many of his experiences have been posted in The Pennsylvania Angler and Boater, a PFBC magazine in a section called “Notes from the Streams.” One of many examples includes the following: “I checked a guy who said he had a ‘trout,’ which turned out to be an 11.5-inch largemouth bass. The next place I stopped, I checked a guy with a ‘smallmouth.’ It turned out to be about a 16-inch brown trout! The last guy laughed at himself when I told him what he had. The first guy didn’t laugh, but did thank me after I issued the citation.”

Then there was this story also from the same magazine. “In my earlier days as a conservation officer, I made several mistakes of asking only to see someone’s ‘license.’ On many occasions, this prompted anglers to hand me a driver’s license to fish. I now ask for a fishing license, but that still leaves the door open for what I might receive. My latest license check certainly proves that. You might even think it was an act of premeditation! By the time he was finished, the angler, who had ‘forgotten’ to display his PA fishing license, handed over six valid fishing licenses, one at a time-for Ontario, Maryland, New York, Michigan, Ohio and finally, Pennsylvania! The fact that he chuckled a lot, passed over the PA license several times and had all of these licenses conveniently stashed at various places about his person was a mere coincidence! I just wonder how many days he spent at the lake waiting for this ‘coincidence’ to occur.”

At the time this story was written, he was serving Eastern Westmoreland and Northwest Somerset Counties.

In September/October of 2000, Vatter received the Pennsylvania Angler and Boater Award as the “Purple Heart Recipient” for a story he had written in the magazine about an old veteran from the Battle of the Bulge and the fellow’s fishing dreams. “Actually, I thought the story was kind of neat,” he said. “In our business, we deal with a lot of negatives. We have to issue a lot of citations. Some people are not pleased, but others, like this gentleman said ‘thank you.’” That brought a smile to his face.

Often when visiting FTTU, he would comment about the Marsellus drilling practices in the county. When the numerous companies made their appearance in our midst, Vatter reported the county’s gas mining activities, other times, overlooked projects and talked with Trout Unlimited members about their concerns at the annual fundraising banquets.

His district will now be covered by WCO Tom Crist who has the southern district presently.

When asked how he will spend his spare time, Vatter said, “I hope to do some hunting, fishing and woodworking.”

He and his wife, Christine, have one son, Kristopher, a sophomore at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where he is studying to be a teacher.

I’m sure I speak for all TU and FTTU members as well as the residents of the counties he served in wishing him best wishes in the many years to come.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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