New conservation officers to fill vacant Montevideo, Madison posts

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Sep. 15—Two vacant conservation officer bureaus in the Upper Minnesota River Valley area will again be staffed.

Conservation Officers Mason Bulthuis and Violet Ohnstad are among 18 who graduated Tuesday from the 21st Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Academy, according to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Bulthuis will serve the Madison bureau, succeeding Stephen Westby who had begun his career there after graduating from the Academy in 2020. Westby subsequently moved to the Little Falls bureau.

Ohnstad will serve the Montevideo bureau. It has been vacant since the death of Conservation Officer Ed Picht in 2018. Picht had served the Upper Minnesota River Valley area for 11 years.

The graduates completed 16 weeks of training in all aspects of their new careers as conservation officers. They already have spread out across the state and will spend the next several months field training with experienced conservation officers before assuming their assigned stations, according to the release.

The officers have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Some are veterans, while others left jobs as police officers to join the DNR. Others worked as firefighters or dispatchers. Some had no previous law enforcement experience, coming to the DNR via the Conservation Officer Prep program, which provides a pathway for people with at least a two-year college degree to become a conservation officer, according to the release.

"Each of the officers brings a unique background and experiences, but the common thread that joins them all is a commitment to protecting Minnesota's people and natural resources, and a desire to ensure future generations have the same opportunities we have today," said Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division.

The Conservation Officer Academy prepares new officers to occupy vital roles in the communities they serve. 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 and outreach, fish and wildlife laws, patrol procedures and environmental enforcement.

Cadets are tested each week and put through practical scenarios that reflect what they will 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.

Upon conclusion of field training, the officers will work in the following field stations: Baudette #1, Baudette #2, Cambridge, Cook, Madison, Malmo, Montevideo, Ortonville, Osakis, Osseo, Pine River, Rochester #2, Sauk Rapids, St. Cloud, White Bear Lake, Warroad #1, Warroad #2 and Worthington.

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.