MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota's 2020 class of 13 conservation officers are in the field in a heightened period of need for protecting the state's natural resources. Their arrival fills vacancies at field stations across the state and helps monitor the masses who've flocked in greater numbers outdoors during the pandemic.
Rodmen Smith, their boss, is upbeat about the group as the director of the Enforcement Division of the Department of Natural Resources, and mindful of what all of his ranks are up against. Minnesota is cycling through seasons of next-level activity. Like spring, summer and fall, winter has been busier than normal, from more ice anglers to more state trail users behind motors and on skis. Many of the people are newcomers, too, making education paramount, Smith said.
The field vacancies that remain are relevant, Smith said. The new group is part of 186 conservation officers, but he projects there will be eight to 10 officers eligible for retirement annually over the next several years.
The division isn't molding a new class of officers in 2021, and Smith is hopeful for funding amid a challenging legislative budget period.
"It's imperative we are able to come out on the other end to hire in 2022 and years beyond," he said, adding that the division's conservation officer prep program has helped recruit applicants and mitigate fewer people applying for law enforcement jobs. The program also has helped add people to a force more reflective of a state becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.
"These new people we're hiring have been fantastic," Smith said.
Five of the officers corresponded about taking on the job of "CO" (edited for length and clarity):
Vincent Brown, 32, Northome station
— Your background? My whole life I have been involved in some type of outdoors activity. I grew up hunting deer, ducks and grouse, and spent a lot of time fishing, snowmobiling and riding ATVs. I am a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and have spent my life in northern Minnesota. Before joining the Enforcement Division, I served proudly with the Leech Lake Tribal Police Department for more than nine years, patrolling the Leech Lake Reservation. I spent eight years as a K9 handler and five years as a patrol sergeant/K9 handler.