Green Guide

Scene Outdoors: Not your traditional game wardens

Posted 1:01 a.m. Monday

— Brittany Hauser slowly edged her boat up the Mississippi River and saw a fishing boat with four men in it.

Using binoculars, she got a closer look. "Binoculars are a game wardens best friend," she told the Post-Bulletin (http://bit.ly/2tc6kXO ).

As she approached the boat, she called out: "Game warden. How's it going?"

All four had their licenses, there were no fish in the live wells and the boat had the require safety equipment. All was well, and Hauser moved further up the river. It was nothing dramatic, just more checking, more waiting, more looking — just a day's work for the conservation officer. "I like to know what's going on around me," she said. "As they say (in training), keep your head on a swivel."

As she rounded a bend, however, what her swiveling head saw was a wall of rain heading downriver, so she hustled back to her boathouse. The Friday of the big Fourth of July weekend wasn't going to be a wild one on the river for her.

Hauser is one of the three new Department of Natural Resources conservation officers in this region. Though they attended the DNR academy together, their backgrounds are decidedly different.

Hauser, who covers eastern Goodhue County, rarely fished and never hunted when growing up in the Twin Cities and is a biology major. Kylan Hill, who covers the western part of the county, grew up hunting and fishing but studied philosophy and political science in college. James Fogarty, who covers eastern Houston and parts of eastern Winona counties, served more than a dozen years in law enforcement in two counties before changing to CO.

Getting "non-traditional" officers such as Hauser and Hill is part of the DNR's new push when hiring conservation officers. It's looking for people with backgrounds outside of law enforcement, said Lt. Tyler Quandt, who is in charge of this DNR region. He previously covered the area Hauser does now.

To be a CO, a person has to have a law-enforcement license and pass medical, physical and psychological tests, he said. Most officers now have a two- or four-year college degree. "We are looking for people who are interested in the outdoors because our job is so unique," he said.

But the DNR is also looking for intangibles, something that doesn't show up in tests, Quandt said. "I think the thing that sets anybody aside in any job is the attitude," he said. "It's their attitude toward life in general." Plus the DNR looks for things like integrity and self-motivation, because COs work pretty much alone, he said.

Hauser said she likes that freedom and being outdoors. "I'm too antsy to sit at a desk all day," she said.

She said she played sports and was a cheerleader in high school and first thought about a medical career when she attended the University of Minnesota - Duluth. But she took a conservation biology course her senior year and that led to a stint working at Tettegouche State Park.

Around that time, she began to think about being a CO. Her dad was a long-time volunteer firefighter and her mom is still a paramedic, so she grew up with the "to protect and serve" ethos.

She was accepted into the CO program, made it through the academy and was stationed in Red Wing beginning Nov. 14.

Her first really big holiday weekend on the Mississippi was last weekend, and before she even left her boathouse, she said, "I'm excited for this weekend." She likes to help people and the resource, and her job lets her do that. "A lot of people take for granted everything we have in Minnesota, all the natural resources we have," she said.

To do her job, Hauser said she needs to be personable, but also be able to read people and relate to them and their problems. Some of that she learned working retail five years, she said.

Her job has been pretty much all she had expected and hoped for, except for one thing — how many people are almost shocked as seeing a female CO. "I've gotten that a surprising number of times," she said. "I just turn it into a learning experience."

For Hill, this was also the first time he's had to work the Fourth of July, and he said he was looking forward to it; he began working April 17. He said he grew up in Aitkin and, being in that natural resource-rich area, hunted and fished as a youth. When he went to college at the University of Minnesota - Morris, he took liberal arts classes.

At college, he saw a notice about the CO preparation program that lets those without law enforcement licenses get them as part of the CO program because the DNR was seeking more diversity. He applied, was accepted, got his license and then went through the DNR academy.

It's harder to explain how philosophy and being a CO meet, but they do, he said. "The core principle is making good arguments," he said. Both are about listening to people, talking to them, he said. When he's dealing with someone he thinks violated the regulations, part of his job is to help them see what they did wrong.

Finally, philosophy also deals with ethics, he said, and being a good CO revolves around integrity and truthfulness, he said. They are always being watched, so they have to be accountable, Hill said. "The last thing we want to do is violate someone's civil rights," he said.

Like Hauser, whom he works with on a near-daily basis, he loves the flexible schedule "and what we do can change with the wind," he said.

Because he works in the Cannon Falls area, which is closer to the Twin Cities, he deals with a diverse number of people, from southeast Asians, to Russians and Europeans, he said. He likes that.

What he also likes is that the Minnesota Legislature this year gave the DNR more money for more COs; right now, the state has about the same number as in the 1950s, he said. "Now there's a good light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Fogarty is the most traditional of the three new officers. He grew up in Belle Plaine and spent a lot of time fishing and hunting as a youth. "I used to follow my oldest brother duck hunting, pheasant hunting and whatever we could hunt," he said.

His dad also rented a place Elba to hunt the second firearms deer season, so he is familiar with the blufflands. He had no clear idea what he wanted to do when he was in high school; he took an aptitude test and found he was suited to being a forest ranger. But he was more interested in being a CO.

He got his law officers license and worked with the Le Seuer and Carver county sheriff's departments and finally got accepted into the DNR officer program. He said he had to take a $10,000 pay cut, but he's more than willing to do that to be able to spend to much time on the Mississippi and also in the blufflands. He began here in November.

In county law enforcement, "there is always stress going on," he said. People call because something's wrong. But being a CO "is a different way of life down here," Fogarty said. "There's no high stress all the time." Most people he deals with are having a good time in the outdoors. "That's the thing that I love," he said.

Work as a deputy does help him read people and deal with people, he said. "I learned how to talk to people," he said. There were many times he could have gotten into an altercation but learned to talk his way out of it, he said.

As a CO, he also has to deal with aquatic invasive species, wetland laws and other things not directly related to hunting and fishing. But that's part of the job, he said.

Though he wears a badge, Fogarty doesn't seem himself as greatly different from those he meets in the outdoors. "I'm just a sportsman like everybody else," he said.

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