New conservation officers introduced, including new Isle-based CO

Graduates of Conservation Officer Academy 20 are (front row, left to right): Meng Moua (Spring Valley), Victoria Griffith (Isle), Chelsey Bechel (Walker), Cassie Block (Willmar #2), Tou Vang (Pierz), and Ryan Brown (Karlstad). In the back row (left to right) are Curt Simonson (International Falls #2), Zach Larson (Montevideo), Michael Cross (Lake George), Charles Scott (CO pilot based in Grand Rapids), Stephen Westby (Madison), Vincent Brown (Northome) and Corey Sura (Baudette 2).

Thirteen people have graduated from the 20th Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Academy, having trained since early May in all aspects of their new careers as conservation officers. They’ll spend the next several months working with experienced conservation officers in communities across the state before assuming their assigned stations.

The officers have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, ranging from former tribal public safety officers, to conservation officers in another state, to city police officers, to veterans and those who’ve worked on outreach programs to connect youth with the outdoors.

“DNR conservation officers have evolved as the makeup of Minnesota and the demands of the job have changed over the years,” said Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division. “But just as it’s been since the 1880s, protecting public safety and our state’s natural resources remains the foundation of all conservation officers’ duties. It is an honor and a privilege to serve, and none of us takes that lightly.”

Minnesota conservation officers are well-prepared to occupy their vital roles in their communities by the time they graduate from the Academy. During the Academy, recruits are trained in all aspects of being a conservation officer. They learn from experienced officers and other experts on a wide variety of topics, including education/outreach, fish and wildlife laws, patrol procedures and environmental enforcement. Cadets are tested each week and put through practical scenarios that reflect what they’ll encounter in the field. During the field training portion of their preparation, cadets work throughout the state with experienced officers before they head for the permanent stations.

Each of the graduates was chosen from among hundreds of applicants and underwent rigorous examinations, psychological profiles and background checks before beginning at the Academy.

There currently are about 20 vacant conservation officer field stations in Minnesota, which means the number of field officers is similar now to what it was five decades ago.

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