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George Named Conservation Officer of the Year
Minnesota Ag Connection - 02/09/2018

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Phil George has been named the 2018 DNR Conservation Officer of the Year, an annual award given to an officer who’s recognized as a leader among natural resource enforcement peers. Enforcement Division Director Rodmen Smith presented the award to George in January at the division’s annual awards ceremony and training at Camp Ripley.

George, who has been a conservation officer since 2006, patrols the Rochester area and is one of the Enforcement Division’s acting regional training officers. He’s also a use of force instructor. The award is based upon overall career performance with an emphasis on the officer’s most recent job evaluation period.

“Officer George is heavily involved in educational efforts throughout his area, emphasizing it – along with enforcement and outreach – to gain voluntary compliance among users of the outdoors,” Smith said. “He’s a go-to officer in his district and has a no-quit attitude. His hard work and dedication are apparent when you talk with people who work with Officer George.”

Other members of the Enforcement Division who were honored include:

- Boat & Water Safety Officer of the Year – Scott Fitzgerald

- CO Scott Fitzgerald, who patrols Crow Wing County, was recognized for his leadership and outstanding achievement in boating safety education, boating while intoxicated enforcement and service to other law enforcement agencies.

“Officer Fitzgerald takes every chance he gets to educate boaters and promote safe and responsible boating and recreation,” Smith said. “He is a model for other officers when it comes to boating safety enforcement, and always can be counted on to provide assistance when it’s needed.” Education Achievement Award – Matthew Frericks

- CO Matthew Frericks, who patrols the Virginia area, received the award for his commitment to the Enforcement Division’s educational programs.

“Officer Frericks is a great proponent of the Enforcement Division’s safety programs and has a keen understanding for how they fit with his role as a conservation officer,” Smith said. “He understands that when kids know about ethics, laws and their responsibilities as sportsmen and women, they make informed decisions while afield.”

- Waterfowl Enforcement Achievement Award – Thor Nelson

CO Thor Nelson, who patrols the New Ulm area, received the award for his dedication to protecting natural resources, specifically those vital to waterfowl. The award also recognizes his commitment to preserving Minnesota’s waterfowl heritage.

“Officer Nelson never passes on an opportunity to visit with young hunters he encounters in the field and share his extensive knowledge of waterfowl behavior and identification,” Smith said. “He understands the important role officers have in habitat and wetland protection, as well as the direct link between habitat and waterfowl populations.”

- Willard Munger Water Resources Protection Award – Keith Bertram

Named after the longtime advocate for conservation and the environment Willard Munger, who served 43 years in the state House of Representatives, the award recognizes an officer who’s particularly devoted to the protection of water resources. CO Keith Bertram, who patrols the Long Prairie area, is this year’s recipient.

“When it comes to wetlands and water-related issues, Officer Bertram is the go-to person and routinely goes above and beyond what’s expected of an officer,” Smith said. “He’s constantly taking advantage of opportunities to educate the public on the importance of water resources and water-related habitat.”

- Meritorious Service Award – Mike Scott

CO Mike Scott, a water resources enforcement officer, is this year’s Meritorious Service Award winner for his leadership on a project to honor officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. In the Enforcement Division’s 130-year history, 19 officers have been killed in the line of duty, and others have died as a result of accidents or drowning

“Officer Scott makes sure we honor these officers all year long,” Smith said. “Paying tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is more important now than it has ever been.”

Appreciation and Recognition Award – Caralee Bjerkness

Caralee Bjerkness has worked for the Division of Enforcement since 1975 and is an office and administrative specialist. She works closely with the Enforcement Division’s Aviation Unit as well as the division’s water resources protection officers.

“Caralee’s can-do attitude is infectious and she sets a great example for everyone else in the division,” Smith said.

Airborne Law Enforcement Association Safety Award – Brad Maas

The Airborne Law Enforcement Association advances, promotes and supports safe and effective use of aircraft by governmental agencies. Natural Resources Pilot Brad Maas was honored for the significant number of accident- and violation-free mission flight hours he’s flown for the Enforcement Division.

Lifesaving Awards – Joel Heyn, Thephong Le and Rick Reller

Three officers were honored for their lifesaving roles. Officers Heyn and Le, who patrol the Plainview and metro areas, respectively, worked with other law enforcement agencies and thermal imaging equipment mounted to a drone to locate an 84-year-old hunter in Olmsted County on the opening day of the deer season. The hunter was stuck in the mud and unresponsive when the officers located him. They helped remove him from the mud and load him for transport to the hospital.

Officer Rick Reller, who patrols the Buffalo area, received the award for responding to a December incident in which a vehicle went off the road and into a holding pond. Reller helped the 17-year-old driver out of the vehicle, which soon went under the water, and then kept her warm in his truck until paramedics arrived.

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