If you could make a career change, what would it be?
For Zach Larson, a switch has given him the chance to answer the call of nature he’s heard all his life.
“I have a passion for protecting our resources and passing on the outdoor lifestyle to future generations,” he said. “It’s my goal to get more people involved, to experience the great outdoors we have in Minnesota.”
As the newest Department of Natural Resources Division of Enforcement officer in the Hutchinson area, he’ll be able to do just that. If you’re exploring public lands, hunting or fishing east of State Highway 15 in McLeod and Sibley counties, you might just meet him.
“It’s a pretty good size station,” Larson said, “all the way up to the northeast corner of Winsted, and the Henderson/Le Sueur area, and Hutchinson on the northwest. It keeps me busy.”
In general, the job of a conservation officer relates to the state’s game and fishing resources. With summer approaching, Larson will be busy with boat and water enforcement, and fishing enforcement. Winter had him out on the ice making sure rules and regulations were followed, and residents were safe.
“Sounds like ice fishing was decent,” Larson said. “Not the best. Not the worst. But we had some lakes that were busy and that was good.”
Officers also check licenses and help local police as requested. Hutchinson is considered a major waterfowl station, and in the fall hunting will come into focus. There’s also wetland enforcement and helping residents avoid burning prohibited materials.
“We wear many hats,” Larson said. “They call us the Swiss Army knife of law enforcement, we have to know so much.”
Larson started work in the Hutchinson area in December following a major life change. Previously, he worked in corporate sales but had a four-year degree in recreation, parks and leisure services from Minnesota State University in Mankato.
“Working for the DNR and being a conservation officer was something I always wanted to do,” he said. “Through the prep program, the DNR is looking for people with different backgrounds and life experiences. ... I applied and was accepted into that program.”
Training included an accelerated law enforcement program at Hennepin Technical College, followed by more than 15 weeks of training at an academy at Camp Ripley. Larson graduated as part of Academy 20 and went on to four months of field training with senior enforcement officers across the state. He wrapped up in Hutchinson in December, and stepped into his new role the same month. At age 32, his career change was official.
“Thankfully I was able to work my way back to this career with a couple of years under my belt,” said the Eagan native. “I grew up outdoors. My family was always involved with camping or hunting on my grandparents’ property.”
Larson works alongside his partner, Brett Wiltrout, who covers the area west of Highway 15.
“He’s been very good at taking me under his wing,” Larson said. “Other officers in the area have helped me as well. It’s been a team effort getting me up to speed. I’m learning the lakes, rivers and management areas that we’ll protect.”