Nobles/Rock soon to get new conservation officer

WORTHINGTON -- The old nursery rhyme that goes, "Oh where oh where has my little dog gone" seems to be prophetic these days when it comes to the efforts to fill the many vacant positions in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources enforcemen...

WORTHINGTON -- The old nursery rhyme that goes, "Oh where oh where has my little dog gone" seems to be prophetic these days when it comes to the efforts to fill the many vacant positions in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources enforcement division. I am referring to the conservation officer positions that I prefer were called Game Wardens.

I am in no way comparing a CO to a little dog, but I really do wonder where they've all gone in many parts of the state. I hear all the time about the huge uproar that is going to take place in America when all the baby boomers start to retire, and the strain to replace them becomes apparent. This is one area that does seem to hit close to home.

Conservation officers have been retiring at rates faster than the department can replace them. This is not because there are no individuals interested in the job, but a result of a lack of funds to train them and put them in place. The funding problems have been solved as of late with the state legislature funding what are called CO academies. We have had one per year the last two years and there is one scheduled this year. These are training schools that graduate 18-20 people per year, who then become COs, and this has been of great help.

It is my understanding that following this year's academy completion, it will be the first time in a very long time that all the CO positions in the state will be filled. There are currently 10 open spots. I can't help but wonder how long that will last. As COs continue to reach retirement age, the number of vacancies will remain steady -- and the need for additional academies will remain constant. I don't know the exact figure, but the cost to fund an academy and outfit the new COs can run close to $1 million. State commitment will need to stay high in order to keep these positions filled.

When you have a CO vacancy like the current one in Nobles/Rock County, it requires the neighboring CO to cover all of their regular territory, and all of the territory of the vacant position. This is absolutely impossible. No human can cover all of Nobles/ Rock, all of Murray and half of Pipestone County, even if he or she has a big red "S" on their chest. This has been the case for over two years, and it leaves our precious resources unprotected.


The Nobles/Rock station is slated to get one of the academy graduates and I look forward to meeting him or her. We had a graduate from one of the last classes on duty for nine days before he transferred to a different duty station. I couldn't help but wonder why southwest Minnesota is not considered a desirable duty station, but I was told it was a lack of employment opportunity for CO spouses and the fact that none of the recent graduates were born and raised here. COs want to live and work in the area of the state that they grew up in. This certainly seems reasonable to me.

There is no economic incentive to work in areas that have high CO turnover or that experience long periods of vacancy, and that should change. If problem areas exist in the state then special attention should be given to those areas. There are normally 500 applicants to each academy and all applicants must be licensed peace officers to apply. Approximately 300 of the initial 500 go on to take the entry test, and 18-20 finish and go on to become COs.

Even when all the stations have a CO in place I believe that more needs to be done. To attempt to cover two entire counties with one staff seems too stretched. The duty station areas need to be made smaller so more attention can be given to locking up those who would steal for the rest of the citizenry.

The only chance of this happening in the current climate is with your help. I have listed the turn-in-poachers number many times and will give it to you again so you record it in your cell phone contact list. This way, you can be the eyes and ears of those who care about our resources. The number is 1-800-652-9093.

When we have this station filled I will take the opportunity to visit with our new CO and will report back to you with the results of our conversation.

I welcome a visit with the area CO when I am out hunting or fishing. This is because when he checks me, I know that he is out there checking others and that just has to be good for the natural resources of our area. I would like to extend a warm welcome to our soon-to-arrive CO. We look forward to your arrival.

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