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Bemidji-area conservation officer Hannah Mishler named CO of the Year

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Hannah Mishler has been named the 2020 DNR Conservation Officer of the Year, an annual award given to an officer for outstanding overall career performance. Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division, recently presented the awards to the officers. 

Mishler, who is stationed in Bemidji, has been a conservation officer since 2014. She and her K9 partner Storm are part of the Enforcement Division’s K9 Unit, and Mishler also routinely assists with teaching new conservation officers at Academies at Camp Ripley. She’s also an arson investigator and devotes time to helping other law enforcement personnel as part of the Enforcement Division’s peer support team.

“Our conservation officers do an amazing job of protecting Minnesota’s people and natural resources every day,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said. “We ask a lot of our officers, and they always answer the call. CO Mishler embodies what it means to be a conservation officer, and pushes a bar that’s already been set high even higher.”

Smith added: “In her time with the DNR, CO Mishler has proven herself to be an exceptional officer who’s always willing to help her partners and do what it takes to get the job done. She’s highly visible in her community – whether she’s in the woods, on the water or sharing her passion for the outdoors at public events – and positively reflects the values and mission of the Enforcement Division and the department as a whole.”

Others Enforcement Division honorees include:

Boat and Water Safety Achievement Award – CO Arnaud Kpachavi CO Arnaud Kpachavi, who is stationed in Mound and is responsible for some of the state’s busiest waterways – including Lake Minnetonka – has prioritized boat and water safety education and enforcement since he became a conservation officer in 2016.

“Keeping the waterways in his station safe is something CO Kpachavi takes personally,” Smith said. “His presence on the water is constant, but his involvement goes well beyond just enforcing laws and regulations. He works hard to change people’s behavior – to keep them and other boaters safe.”

CO Kpachavi also was named officer of the year for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ Northern Region, which includes 20 states.

Waterfowl Enforcement Achievement Award – retired CO Rick Reller CO Rick Reller, who retired earlier this year, had been in the Buffalo station since he began his career as a CO in 1999. He’s an avid waterfowl hunter who understands the importance of good habitat and prioritized protecting wetlands during his career. His station included Pelican Lake, a duck-hunting destination that’s close to the metro area.

“CO Reller’s dedication and work ethic when it came to waterfowl really were second-to-none,” Smith said. “Whether he was checking duck hunters, teaching at safety classes, or imparting his knowledge on new conservation officers, he was a consummate professional.”

Willard Munger Wetlands Achievement Award – CO Jamie VanThuyne CO Jamie VanThuyne, who is stationed in Mankato and has been a CO since 2015, received the Willard Munger Wetlands Achievement Award. The award, which recognizes an officer who’s particularly devoted to water resource protection, is named after the longtime Minnesota House of Representatives member who was focused on conservation and the environment.

“CO VanThuyne is responsible for one of the busiest recreational boating areas in southern Minnesota, as well as an area of the state’s that particularly susceptible to environmental damage due to rapid development surrounded by an agricultural landscape,” Smith said. “He does a great job of working to ensure those valuable water resources are preserved and protected.”

Enforcement Education Achievement Award – CO Amber Ladd During her nine years with the DNR, CO Amber Ladd, who is stationed in Aitkin, has prioritized the educational and safety components of the job. She works closely with the volunteer instructors who deliver the Enforcement Division’s safety programs and stresses the need for safety when she’s checking people in the field.

“Over the years, people have become safer on the water, on the trails and in the woods, and that’s because of the keen interest that officers like CO Ladd have taken in safety,” Smith said. “For her, safety isn’t just one part of the job – it’s enmeshed in everything she does.”

In addition, Meliza Thurstin, an office and administrative specialist in the Enforcement Division’s central officer, received a meritorious service award. CO Dustin Miller, who is stationed in Windom, was named the Turn in Poachers Officer of the Year.