The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources graduated 14 new conservation officers from its now annual training academy last week, and three of them are Northland natives:
Marc Johnson, a Hibbing native, is a 12-year veteran of the Duluth Police Department, most recently serving as a K9-handling officer.
Mikeena Mattson is a 2015 Cloquet Senior High School graduate.
Calie Kunst is a 2014 Duluth East High School graduate and a member of the Minnesota Air National Guard’s Duluth-based 148th fighter wing.
The officers, who graduated Tuesday and were immediately sent off for three months of on-the-job training with veteran conservation officers, were part of the 19th class of candidates to take part in the DNR academy held at Camp Ripley. Classes started May 20 and included topics ranging from fish and wildlife laws to patrol procedures, rules of evidence and fish and wildlife investigation. The candidates also learned about the vital role conservation officers occupy in their communities and the part they play in developing the next generation of anglers, conservationists and hunters.
The officers will be assigned to their permanent stations in December.
Kunst, who is training in Bemidji this month, will be permanently stationed in Remer in December. An avid outdoorswoman, Kunst said she always knew she wanted to be in law enforcement but “just fell in love” with the CO job after an internship with a Duluth-area conservation officer.
Kunst received her degree in law enforcement from Minnesota State University-Mankato and served a six-month deployment overseas with the 148th last year before accepting the offer from DNR.
“I’ve always loved fishing and being outdoors and as soon as I spent time with a conservation officer, I knew this is what I wanted to do,’’ Kunst told the News Tribune.
Johnson, 35 is a Hibbing native and lifelong avid outdoorsman and decided, after being a Duluth police officer since 2007, he wanted to work where he played: In the woods and on the water. He previously graduated from Bemidji State University.
“I’m going from being a middle-of-the-city, downtown cop to patrolling the back roads,’’ said Johnson, who recently got married. Yes, he noted, his wife loves the outdoors, too.
Johnson said the freedom of being a CO — and the chance to work in boats, snowmobiles, ATVs, trucks and in the woods — makes up for his loss of agency seniority with the move from city to state employee.
“You can make it as fun and rewarding as you want,’’ he said of the CO job.
Johnson is currently training in the Bigfork area and will be stationed permanently in the Warroad area.
“I kind of grew up fishing on Lake of the Woods, so I figured that’s a god a place as any to start,’’ Johnson said.
Mattson, of Cloquet, graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a major in biology and minor in sustainability but decided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, Lee Alderson, a former Carlton-area conservation officer for the DNR. (Alderson died in 2005.)
“I’ve always been outdoor-oriented; our family fishes and hunts and spends a lot of time outside. … At first I thought biology would be my (career) goal. But the more I looked at it, the more conservation officer sounded right for me,” Mattson said. “Conservation law enforcement is very special. It offers a lot of opportunities for people like me who love the outdoors and who want to make a difference."
Mattson is now training in Pequot Lakes and will be permanently stationed in Walker in December.
There are 155 conservation officer field stations in Minnesota. Currently, 27 of them are vacant due to retirements. The new class will reduce the vacancies by about half. Each station covers about 650 square miles.