It’s the first Conservation Officer Academy since 2012, and the 15th class since academy training began at Camp Ripley in 1994.
DNR Enforcement Director Col. Ken Soring praised the 10 candidates on their selection to the academy.
“This is a strong class of candidates that will receive some of the best natural resources protection training in the nation,” Soring said. “I'm confident that when they graduate these men and women will continue in the conservation officer tradition, willing and able to stand watch over our state’s valuable natural resources.”
The Conservation Officer Academy curriculum includes training in fish and wildlife laws, rules of evidence, patrol procedures, search and rescue, and fish and wildlife investigation. The Minnesota Police and Peace Officer Training Board, the licensing agency for police officer training, has certified classes presented at the academy. Upon graduation, the new conservation officers will spend 16 weeks in field training assigned to veteran conservation officers for “hands-on” training.
“It’s an intensive program,” Soring said. “We ask a lot of both the candidates and their families, but it is worth it as these are their future partners.”
Conservation officers ensure the future of natural resources for the people of Minnesota through responsible enforcement of appropriate laws, regulations and rules. A normal station covers 650 square miles so they usually work alone and cover extensive and often remote areas of Minnesota.
List of 10 candidates:
- Joe Kulhanek has experience as a seasonal park ranger with the National Park Service.
- Chelsie Leuthardt has been a patrol officer with the Breckenridge and Wheaton police departments, and a corrections and dispatch officer for the Traverse County Sheriff’s Office.
- Bill Landmark, police officer, Watford City (North Dakota) Police Department; experience with the National Park Service.
- Jim Van Asch has experience in the building, construction and property management trade.
- Erik Benjamin is an Afghanistan and Iraq veteran with more than 15 years of U.S. Army and Army National Guard experience. He was a deputy sheriff with the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department.
- Nick Prachar is an EMT who completed a 200-hour internship with multiple Minnesota conservation officers.
- Hannah Cowden, community service officer, St. Cloud Police Department.
- Beau Shroyer, police officer, Detroit Lakes.
- Marc Hopkins is a Minnesota state trooper. Previously he was a police officer/police chief in Morton.
- Nick Klehr worked on a dairy farm and a campground/riding stable.