New DNR conservation officers on patrol in Rock, Nobles and Jackson counties
Roemeling and Drown were selected from a competitive field of hundreds of applicants to attend the state’s 2022 conservation officer training academy.
WORTHINGTON — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources introduced 15 new conservation officers to stations statewide on Jan. 4, and two of the new officers will serve in southwest Minnesota.
Dustin Roemeling was assigned to serve as the conservation officer for Rock and Nobles counties, while Jesse Drown will serve Jackson County. Roemeling's post was previously filled by Andrew Dirks, who transferred to Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in northern Minnesota, while Drown replaces Mike Gruhlke, who retired from his position in Jackson County.
Roemeling and Drown were selected from a competitive field of hundreds of applicants to attend the state’s 2022 conservation officer training academy. The 16-week academy began in late May at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minnesota. Following graduation in September, each of the 15 recruits were assigned field training around the state for the second 16-week portion of the program. Roemeling’s training was at DNR stations in Mankato, Hutchinson and Grand Rapids, while Drown trained at stations in Ely, Babbitt, Detroit Lakes and Willmar.
During their training, the DNR said the new recruits “taught the next generations of outdoor recreationists how to enjoy their sports safely and ethically; busted poachers; worked closely with conservation officers with decades of experience; and learned the ins and outs of natural resources law enforcement.”
Those experiences have given the men and women the experience necessary to assume their field stations, the DNR stated in a press release.
“Our natural resources are Minnesota’s crown jewel, and our conservation officers are on the front lines of working to ensure future generations have the same or better outdoor opportunities than we have today,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR’s Enforcement Division. “We demand a lot from our conservation officers. I have no doubt these new officers will join their dedicated colleagues in always answering the call.”
Minnesota has 155 field stations across the state, each covering about 650 square miles. There are still more than 15 field stations without full-time, dedicated coverage. The DNR plans to begin the hiring process next month for a 2024 Academy, to begin in the spring.
Roemeling a familiar face
Dustin Roemeling grew up in rural Edgerton and graduated from Southwest Christian High School before earning his degree in law enforcement at Minnesota West Community & Technical College in Worthington.
He worked as a community service officer with the Rochester Police Department for one summer before being hired as a full-time officer with the Worthington Police Department. For the next nearly 14 years, Roemeling worked for the WPD and served several years with the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office. He left the WPD in May 2022 to attend the conservation officer training academy.
“As a kid, I grew up doing a lot of hunting and fishing with my dad, riding snowmobile and 4-wheeler, and I loved the outdoors,” Roemeling said. “I always thought about being a CO. I knew Andrew Dirks was leaving and there was going to be a spot available; I thought now was my chance.
“I thought if I was lucky enough to get offered a job in this area and not have to move my family, that would be great,” he added.
Roemeling and his wife, Rachel, have three daughters, ages 1½ to 7, and live in rural Worthington.
In his new role as a conservation officer, Roemeling will still aid law enforcement as needed, but his primary role will be enforcement and education of Minnesota laws pertaining to its natural resources and recreational activity — hunting, fishing, trapping, as well as snowmobile, boat and ATV use.
“There was a lot of specialized training that we needed,” Roemeling shared, saying he and fellow academy members did water survival training in full uniform and practiced enforcement action from a boat. Everyone was trained in how to operate a boat, ride an ATV and enforce ATV laws, he said, and they had to learn game and fish laws, commercial inspections and trapping rules.
“We had extensive firearms training, defensive tactics training and emergency vehicle operation training,” he added.
Since conservation officers are expected to be out on patrol, Roemeling’s office is his truck. He and Drown are both stationed within the DNR’s regional office in New Ulm, and will attend regional meetings there.
Roemeling is excited to be working in the area once again.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Rock County, both while growing up and professionally,” Roemeling said, noting that as a K-9 unit officer, he’d assist with law enforcement in Rock County as needed.
During his first week on the job, Roemeling spent time checking in with people ice fishing and coyote hunting, doing commercial inspections with taxidermists in the two counties and monitoring snowmobilers.
“I encourage people to get out and ride the local trails,” Roemeling said. “Remember to be safe and follow the rules.”
Drown is new to southwest Minnesota
Jesse Drown was born in North Carolina, grew up in Vermont , spent time in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and ended up stationed in Duluth for nearly three years as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. As his 5-year enlistment came to an end, Drown noticed that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was looking to hire conservation officers.
“I have a bachelor’s degree in legal studies — pre-law — and with my background in the military, I was lucky to get hired,” Drown shared. “I always knew I wanted to get into law enforcement. Once I came to Minnesota, I enjoyed the landscape. The state has so much to offer.”
Drown said he has a passion for the wilderness and the outdoors, and many fond memories of hunting and fishing.
“This job allows me to do traditional law enforcement and allows me to preserve and conserve these types of activities,” he said. “I want to make sure that people in the future have these opportunities that we know and love.”
While Drown had never been to Jackson County before — he said there’s a lot more snow here than what people had told him — he is learning, and enjoying, the landscape.
“Our field training is very unique,” he said. “You get to see everything the state offers, and that’s a huge benefit.”
His field training only took him as far south as Willmar, but the outdoors recreation is similar — fishing, hunting, boating, snowmobiling and ATV use.
“The population of deer and pheasants seem to be healthy,” Drown said of what he’s seen in Jackson County. “I know some of the snow is keeping some of the ice anglers at bay, but there’s a lot of opportunity for snowmobilers.”
Drown said he likes how dynamic the job is as a conservation officer.
“In the drop of the hat, anything can happen,” he said. “You can go from checking anglers to a traffic stop to checking snowmobilers. With the seasons it changes as well. You have to be up and ready and understand the laws.
“Anything can happen — it keeps you on your toes.”
Both Drown and Roemeling are accessible through the Minnesota DNR Information Center at 1-888-646-6367, and messages will be delivered to them through the Turn in Poachers (TIP) hotline at 1-800-652-9093.