Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Tom Hutchins has been named the 2020 DNR Conservation Officer of the Year, an annual award presented to an officer for outstanding overall career performance. Enforcement Division Director Rodmen Smith presented Hutchins the award last week at the division’s annual awards ceremony and training conference at Camp Ripley.
Hutchins, a conservation officer since 2004, is stationed in the Crookston area of northwestern Minnesota, which includes a wide variety of landscapes. The common thread that runs through all of Hutchins’ work is protection of the natural resources in his station and beyond.
“This award represents the highest achievement for natural resources law enforcement officers in Minnesota, and CO Hutchins couldn’t be any more deserving,” Smith said. “He takes great pride in his work, is invested in his community and cares strongly about our natural resources. Hutchins is a great example of the difference conservation officers make every day.”
Other Enforcement Division honorees include:
Boat and Water Safety Achievement Award – Mitch Lawler
Conservation officer Mitch Lawler, who’s stationed in the water recreation-rich Alexandria area, has prioritized boat and water safety education and enforcement since he became a conservation officer in 2012.
“Whether he’s interacting with boaters on the water, talking with kids in a classroom, or giving a presentation to a citizen group or business, Lawler is constantly focused on boat and water safety,” Smith said. “Simply put, his commitment makes the water a safer place to enjoy the outdoors.”
Waterfowl Enforcement Achievement Award – Jim Guida
A second-generation conservation officer, Jim Guida, who works the Brainerd East station, is committed to ensuring future generations have the opportunity to experience ducks whizzing by their blinds. In addition, he spends countless hours every year teaching kids about waterfowl conservation by helping them build wood duck houses and talking to them at school and during safety courses.
“CO Guida takes an all-encompassing approach to waterfowl enforcement,” Smith said. “He makes sure hunters in the field are hunting ethically and lawfully, but he’s also devoted to protecting wetlands and the associated habitats that are crucial to the future of waterfowl.”
Willard Munger Wetlands Achievement Award – Angela Londgren
CO Angela Londgren, who is stationed in the Cambridge area, is this year’s Willard Munger Wetlands Achievement Award recipient. The award, which recognizes an officer who excels in the area of water resource protection, is named after the longtime state House of Representatives member who was focused on conservation and the environment. Londgren is stationed in an area of the state with an abundance of water and wetlands.
“Water resource issues can become contentious quickly, but CO Londgren handles them all fairly and in a way that minimizes impacts to wildlife habitat,” Smith said. “She has an incredible knowledge of the various regulations that apply to water resource protection, but as importantly she helps people understand why they’re in place.”
Enforcement Education Achievement Award – Tricia Plautz
Henning-area CO Tricia Plautz recognizes the value of education both within and outside of the DNR. She’s one of the veteran officers who field trains new conservation officers before they go out on their own and is heavily involved in safety training classes for youth and adults alike.
“Safety training and education is a priority for the Enforcement Division and we know it’s made anglers, hunters and other people safer when they’re out recreating,” Smith said. “CO Plautz is an effective and enthusiastic teacher, and this award acknowledges her commitment to this aspect of her job.”
Additionally, Lt. Tyler Quandt and conservation officers Kipp Duncan, Brittany Hauser, Jeff Humphrey, Emily Leeb, Keith Olson, Plautz, Scott Staples and Hanna Wood received lifesaving awards. Conservation officer Dustie Speldrich received a meritorious service award for her work with the Law Enforcement Memorial Association. During the conference, Dustin Miller was recognized as this year’s National Wild Turkey Federation conservation officer of the year, and Londgren as the Turn in Poachers conservation officer of the year, and CO Kipp Duncan, who patrols the Duluth area, as the Minnesota Trappers Association conservation officer of the year.