Talk about a holiday gift. There are two new officers in Hutchinson. Conservation officers, that is.
On Christmas Day, Brett Wiltrout and Ryan Hanna joined the Hutchinson branch of the Department of Natural Resources after a five-month training program at the Conservation Officer Academy at Camp Ripley in Little Falls.
Conservation officers encourage outdoor opportunities for families, protect fish and game while enforcing fish and game laws, provide education for outdoor recreation to the general public, and work with the commercial side of natural resources.
“Our ultimate goal,” Wiltrout said, “is a healthy balance between … the use of the resource and what we have in the state.”
To achieve this goal, Wiltrout said, the DNR works closely with other divisions in the preservation of the state's natural resources, including ecological and water resources, enforcement, fish and wildlife, forestry, lands and minerals, and parks and trails. So they do a lot of things, including but not limited to: ecosystem management, conservation cooperation, planting and preserving trees, and managing state trails.
Wiltrout graduated with a bachelor's degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato and previously spent 15 years with the Worthington Police Department as a police officer.
Hanna attended Vermilion Community College in Ely and earned a two-year degree in wildland/wildlife law enforcement. He also completed a four-year degree in police science. After graduation he became a sheriff's deputy with Mille Lacs County for 3 1/2 years.
Both decided to leave traditional law enforcement to become conservation officers because of their passion for the state's natural resources.
"I think we both have a love for the outdoors," Wiltrout said.
"You look at the outdoors as a perishable resource that through generations could either be destroyed or taken advantage of," Hanna said, "and it's conservation officers that are out on the front line ensuring that it's possible that the resources aren't abused and can be utilized in a sustainable way."
Like any job, there are difficult times and situations, but both felt the interactions with people is the most enjoyable part.
“The best parts of my job are when I can be a part of a youth's experience of the outdoors," Hanna said. "When they catch that first fish, the glow in their eyes and they're super excited, and you know that they're hooked on fishing and the outdoors."
And while some may have had negative encounters with conservation officers that led to tickets, that's part of their education duty, Wiltrout said.
"If you get a ticket from a conservation officer, look at it as a learning moment," he said. "Don't look at it as getting a ticket because you did something wrong. Turn that negative into a positive, correct what needs to be corrected, and hopefully you can tell somebody and you can use that as a learning moment for somebody else."
Both officers are happy to be in the Hutchinson community. In fact, as part of the application process officers are asked to rank the stations they would most like to work at, and both rated Hutchinson their No. 1 choice.
"It looked like a nice small community, from what I've known, that I could start a family in and raise them up,” Hanna said.
“I've driven through several times, and I've heard nothing but good things about the community,” Wiltrout said. “The decision to move here was easy.”