Michigan has 23 new Department of Natural Resources conservation officers training across the state, and three will be assigned to Northeast Michigan.
Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties are among those getting new conservation officers, Sgt. Joe Molnar said. The officers currently are in a 21-week field training process where they spend six-week periods with a different training officer in different parts of the state. This new round of hiring is thanks in part to a recent increase in hunting and fishing license fees, and will bring staffing levels back to where they had been in the past.
During training, these conservation officer academy graduates will be evaluated on what they learned and are working with veteran officers to learn even more, Molnar said. When they're done, they'll have to learn the geography of their counties and will have nearly a year of training under their belts.
"We're just evaluating to make sure they're going to be a good officer and make sure there's not going to be any concerns," he said.
When they're done, the officers will have a busy start, Molnar said. They'll be patrolling any fall fish spawning runs, with deer season soon to follow.
Timothy Rosochacki is currently training in Petoskey, he said, and is loving it so far. During academy he had to jump into freezing-cold water, did lots of physical and firearm training, learn survival techniques and many other skills. Now he's halfway through his first six-week field training stint and called it all "a dream come true."
"Just the fact that you don't know what you're going to be doing from day to day, every day can start off with a plan and that plan can change," he said. "It just keeps things very interesting, it keeps you very engaged. There's really no opportunity for boredom."
Born and raised in South Lyon, 26-year-old Rosochacki said the city was never for him. He'll be assigned to Alpena County, and as an avid outdoorsman he's looking forward to fishing for Lake Huron salmon and Thunder Bay walleye.
Rosochacki also has fond memories of the Alpena area from his childhood, as his late grandfather had a cabin in Ossineke. He's a Northern Michigan University graduate with a bachelor's degree in environmental conservation and criminal justice. His wife is from the Upper Peninsula, so Alpena will put them closer to her family when he's permanently assigned to the area in October.
Paul Fox will be Presque Isle County's conservation officer, and like Rosochacki he loves the job and being outdoors, he said. Soon to be 25, he graduated from Ferris State University and grew up in Deckerville in the Thumb area. While both Presque Isle and Sanilac counties have crops and cows, there are many more natural resources in Northeast Michigan.
"It's a great job, you spend so much time in the outdoors," he said. "I'm a real avid hunter and fisher, I love to trap. Being in the outdoors, the things I get to do are pretty amazing."
Brad Bellville will be assigned to Montmorency County.
Conservation officers have to face many of the same challenges as other law enforcers, including dealing with agitated individuals in difficult situations, Molnar said. They also have their own unique challenges: along with learning the geography of their counties, they have to patrol some very isolated areas.
"Our backup might be a half-hour or so away, whereas if a traffic stop happens on a county road or state highway where a general officer might be able to get to them in a timely manner, we might be out on foot on state land," he said.
Nevertheless, a conservation officer's job is an important one, Molnar said. They're not out to write tickets but they will cite people who violate fish, game and wildlife laws. More officers will serve as a deterrent against hunters and anglers taking more animals than the law allows. They'll also ensure sportsmen and women are having a safe experience.
These officers also will interact with the public on a regular basis, including answering questions about fish and game regulations, speaking to sporting organizations and helping at hunter safety classes, Molnar said. It's similar to community-based policing used by other law enforcement agencies.