Q Since formation of the Chief Game Warden office in 1887, enforcement work has expanded enormously. In your 26 years with the division, what changes have you seen?
Motorized recreation has increased tremendously. In the early '80s, there were a few three-wheelers out there, but since then there has been a real explosion of a wide range of recreational vehicles. Since passage of Minnesota's Wetland Conservation Act in 1991, the division has stepped up its efforts to help ensure no net loss of the state's remaining wetlands. From the air, CO pilots look for wetland alterations, such as filling and draining, then COs on the ground investigate possible violations. New enforcement challenges will continue to arise as times change. Hunting and fishing will always be part of enforcement.
Q What trends have you seen in fish and game violations during your career?
It's hard to track those changes. You can see localized trends, but to look at the big picture is more difficult. One of the biggest increases that we've seen, in any violations category, is baiting for deer. The problem of baiting doesn't seem to be going away, but legislation passed during the most recent session closed a loophole that allowed hunters to hunt deer over a bird feeder.
There are many more special fishing regulations. These are particularly important to enforce. In many cases, if you have as much as a 10 percent violation rate, it throws out of whack some of the studies that DNR Fisheries are trying to complete. So it's very important to keep track of anglers on those waters.
Q Have you seen any shifts in motivations behind serious game violations?
The value of trophy animals, especially deer, motivates some of the baiting issues and some of the shining issues. A big deer mount is not just something to hang on the wall anymore, it's something that can be worth thousands of dollars -- even hundreds of thousands of dollars. When that kind of money is out there, the temptation to kill an animal for profit is so much greater.
Q What kind of cases does the investigative unit tackle?
Generally, their cases involve getting close to the violators and observing violations firsthand. Hunters go into the woods in the dark, and they leave in the dark. They're up in a tree stand, and there is no way to approach them and watch what they're doing. Our officers, in many cases, are out there hunting with them. All of our special investigation cases are based on prior complaints. We have to have an indication that there is illegal activity going on to even go look at somebody.
Q During this spring's flooding along the Red River, how did COs help?
At the height of the flood, we had 46 officers and four supervisors providing 24-hour coverage with over 20 boats. Officers helped with evacuations, transported public service people, . . . patrolled areas that had been evacuated to make sure there wasn't any looting. Local law enforcement said that we were the most valuable asset they had because they could call on us and we were there quickly.
Q Tell us about the duties of CO pilots.
Their day-to-day work includes recording wildlife, waters, and fisheries. They also provide support to conservation officers on the ground for a wide range of efforts such as motorized vehicle enforcement and search and rescue. They are able to assist with anything that requires a bird's eye view. For example, when the CWD (chronic wasting disease) outbreak occurred in an elk herd in southeastern Minnesota, CO pilots were able to identify deer that were getting into and out of the enclosures.
Q What advice do you give to young people pursuing an enforcement career?
Get that natural resources background. That makes a good conservation officer. Spend time trapping, fishing, and hunting. Being active in all the outdoors recreation is important and also having some formal training. . . . to have that underlying science to understand why you are doing things, not just because the law says it's illegal.