Longtime Alexandria-area Conservation Officer Named CO of the Year

CO of the Year

(Alexandria, MN) — March 4, 2024 —  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Mitch Lawler has been named the 2023 DNR Conservation Officer of the Year, an annual award presented to an officer for outstanding overall career performance. Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division, presented awards to Lawler and four other officers last month at Camp Ripley.

Lawler works the Alexandria station, where he’s been since joining the DNR in 2012. Before that, he was a sheriff’s deputy in Mille Lacs County. The Alexandria station includes an abundance of water bodies and public lands, which means people are out recreating year-round. Lawler also speaks frequently with community groups, school classes and students taking part in all-terrain vehicle, firearms and snowmobile safety training classes. In addition to his regular duty as a conservation officer to protect Minnesota’s people and natural resources, Lawler spends time every year training the state’s newest conservation officers and is active on the Enforcement Division’s team that works to recruit new conservation officers.

“Mitch is the epitome of what we look for in a conservation officer and is extremely deserving of this recognition,” Smith said. “He understands the unique position conservation officers hold in their communities and is a positive reflection not just of the Enforcement Division, but the department as a whole.”

Lawler also was named the 2023 Minnesota Wildlife Officer of the Year by the Shikar Safari Club International and received the 2023 Law Enforcement Award from the Minnesota Chapter of The Wildlife Society.

Other Enforcement Division honorees include:

Boat and Water Safety Achievement Award – CO James Fogarty

CO James Fogarty, who is stationed in Prior Lake, is a leader in the Enforcement Division when it comes to keeping people safe on the water. He’s been a CO since 2016 and is a consistent presence on waters in his area as well as on the busiest lakes and rivers throughout the state.

“James is a solid all-around conservation officer, but he really shines when it comes to educating people about staying safe on the water and removing people who operate watercrafts while under the influence,” Smith said. “He does an excellent job on his busy station waters, including Prior Lake, but also routinely works some of the state’s busiest lakes and rivers.”

Waterfowl Enforcement Achievement Award – CO Mike Fairbanks

CO Mike Fairbanks, who is stationed in Deer River, has been a CO since 2005 and works with his K9 partner Fennec. It’s common for hunters to see the two of them early and late in the day, and in the hard-to-reach areas that waterfowl hunters often target.

“Mike is well-known to the waterfowl hunters in the area he patrols – whether because he’s checked them in previous seasons, provided them tips for having a successful hunt, or coached or mentored them in the past,” Smith said. “It takes dedication to be a good waterfowl enforcement officer, and Mike is among the best of the best.”

Willard Munger Wetlands Achievement Award – CO Andrew Goodman

CO Andrew Goodman, who is stationed in Perham and has been a CO since 2018, places a high priority on investigating and resolving complaints and violations related to the wetlands and water resources in his area.

“Regulations surrounding wetlands and waters tend to be complex and include a number of agencies,” Smith said. “However, protecting these precious resources is important to the people of Minnesota and, as such, is an extremely important part of conservation officers’ work. Andrew is dedicated to that work and is very deserving of this award.”

Enforcement Education Achievement Award – CO Marc Johnson

CO Marc Johnson, who is stationed in Hibbing and has been a conservation officer since 2019, is active not only in speaking at safety training classes, but also in ensuring the volunteers who deliver the safety training program have everything they need. He works tirelessly to provide outdoor safety education to youth and adults. He’s also active in training his law enforcement peers to ensure they have the knowledge they need to stay safe while doing their jobs.

“Marc has always prioritized the safety aspect of his job as a conservation officer,” Smith said. “There’s no doubt the people who recreate outdoors and the law enforcement personnel who protect public safety in Minnesota are safer because of his efforts.”

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