By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) named Paul Kuske, Pierz, as the Conservation Officer of the Year. He was presented with his award during in-service training held at Camp Ripley in Little Falls.
The state of Minnesota has 182 conservation officers and the annual award is given for accumulative lifetime career achievements. Division Director Col. Jim Konrad spoke about all the extra duties Kuske performed and the talents he brought to the job.
“Kuske is recognized immediately in the area where he works as a consummate professional who represents the best of our officers. He instills in the public the ideal of a conservation officer,” said Konrad. “This prestigious award is not given out, but earned through dedication, perseverance and hard work.”
Kuske’s wife, Joyce, also a conservation officer, said her husband is a “wise old owl,” and has been a mentor to many new officers during his career.
“He works very hard, puts in odd hours and deserves this award,” she said.
Kuske has been with the Conservation Division of the DNR for 25 years.
“Many officers move to different stations during their career,” said Kuske. “I’ve been in Pierz for all my 25 years, which is a unique situation.”
Kuske said he has wanted this job since he was in seventh grade.
“I had a great mentor when in junior high,” he said. “My science teacher, Ed Pitzenburger in Dodge Center, steered me to the field of natural resources.”
Kuske said he has a huge love for the outdoors and a passion for conservation work and its importance.
A conservation officer is responsible for ensuring public safety and the compliance with state game and fish, recreational vehicle and natural resource commercial operation laws. The officer’s major responsibilities include law enforcement, public safety and education in the areas of hunting and fishing seasons, methods of taking animals and fish, bag and possession limits. But each officer also deals with public safety when it comes to alcohol use, protection of the state’s land, air and water and safety training and assists in education classes for youths and adults.
Each officer is also knowledgeable with snowmobiling, all terrain vehicles and boating regulations, cross country skiing rules, the Turn in Poachers program, burning regulations and trail rules. They are also trained in solid waste and air quality enforcement, wetland protection and more.
The officers work flexible hours, meeting the seasonal needs in their assigned patrol areas which average 650 square miles.
Training includes classes in the area of firearms, defensive tactics and more. Conservation officers work with shooting ranges operators to improve facility safety and to promote shooting sport safety.
“The 12-week in-depth academy course teaches about 60 different areas of enforcement,” said Kuske. “We work with enforcing all the laws that pertain to every area of outdoor recreation.”
Kuske said he lives in a great community with wonderful people.
“This award is a direct reflection on those people,” he said. “No one knows you in the Twin Cities, but everyone knows me in Pierz. There is no anonymity and that can be good or bad. I love being part of this community; it’s integral to the job. I feel I am a better officer because of those relationships.