Showcasing the DNR: A day in the life of Michigan conservation officers

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A day in the life of Michigan conservation officers

Michigan Department of Natural Resources 

A Michigan conservation officer takes down information alongside an off-road vehicle.

For conservation officers Jason King and Will Brickel, who patrol Saginaw County, the second Saturday of March offered an atypical work assignment.

They were paired to patrol a section of the Saginaw River on the last Saturday before walleye season closed for six weeks.

The officers were part of a four-boat crew that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had deployed during a “saturated patrol,” a technique the DNR uses when it expects a lot of traffic in a specific area.

King, 32 and a conservation officer for three years, and Brickel, 29 and serving in the role for four years, said they work alone 90 percent of the time. But both said they prefer to partner up when they’re working in a watercraft.

“Typically for marine patrol, we try to work in pairs because it’s easier and safer,” Brickel said.

Both officers agreed that the group patrols are a good idea for a number of reasons, including having help available if there are mechanical issues with equipment.

“And just the fact that you’ve got more eyes on things means you’ll see a lot more,” King said.

Brickel said he thinks group patrols present an opportunity to enhance his skills.

“I learn from the other guys who have been doing it longer the tricks of the trade,” he said.

A Michigan conservation officer writes a ticket while on a boating patrol.

Group patrols are relatively common for some activities, such as a snowmobile or off-road vehicle patrol or maybe ice fishing on a larger lake or bay, if for no other reason than the word spreads fast on social media that the DNR is out there.

Patrolling in groups gives conservation officers a chance to make a lot of contacts before any scofflaws can hightail it out of the area.

King and Brickel launched their boat in downtown Saginaw and headed downstream, Brickel handling the 18-foot Lund boat while King looked through binoculars.

He scanned registration numbers to make sure boaters were compliant, then chose a boat with three anglers to check.

Sure enough, there was an issue: one of the anglers did not have his fishing license with him. So, King asked the angler for his driver’s license and then delivered a short monologue.

He told the angler that it was a violation to not have his license in his possession but that he would call in and find out if the angler had a license.

An angler waits while his fishing license is checked by a Michigan conservation officer.

If so, King said he wouldn’t bother him again, but if not, he could expect a ticket, either later in the day or in the mail. King ended up letting it go with a warning. The angler did have a license.

“I don’t write a lot of tickets,” King said. “But when I do, they’re good tickets.”

Neither of the officers said they felt like they were under any pressure to write tickets. Just making their presence known helps with compliance, they said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people aren’t doing anything wrong,” Brickel said. “But the more contact you make, the more people will tell you about what’s going on in the area.”

Throughout the day, the pair checked several boats and found most were in full compliance. No one had too many fish or any undersized walleyes.

Several anglers did not have their licenses with them. They were warned of the violation and their driver’s licenses were run to make sure they were license-holders. Several anglers who weren’t carrying their boat registrations were similarly warned.

The pair wrote just one ticket to an angler who did not have floatation devices (life vests) in his boat. 

A Michigan conservation officer talks with a hunter at the base of his tree stand.

“Safety is our top priority,” King said.

DNR Sgt. Tony Soave, who was running the operation, said saturation patrols are “really effective.”

“We can hit a lot of areas right away and make a lot of contacts before people realize we’re on the river,” he said. “We try to focus these patrols when the resource is most vulnerable. Right now, the river is full of fish you can tell by how many fish are being caught.”

Soave said he runs about a half dozen saturation patrols a year, but they’re hard to organize because conservation officers have such a wide range of duties.

“We’ve got to pick a time when we’ve got enough officers available to make it work,” Soave explained. “Today we would have had another boat out, but I’ve got two officers in Lansing conducting interviews for the next (conservation officer) recruit school.”

A group patrol on Saginaw Bay earlier this winter turned up a lot of violations.

“We wrote about a dozen tickets before word got out that we were out there,” Soave said. “The odds are more in our favor when we’re catching them by surprise.”

Surprise is an important element in catching violators, according to Brickel, who said he makes a lot of cases by standing back and watching. He finds a lot of guys illegally catching walleyes from the riverbank at night, often during the closed season.

A segment is filmed for the "Wardens" television show in Marquette.

“A lot of people we just watch,” he said. “We don’t even make contact. When you’re doing deer patrol, for instance, and you see a parked car, you can run the license plate number and see if the owner’s got a deer license. You don’t need to make contact.”

Both officers considered the day’s work productive, despite the fact they didn’t run into any bad guys.

And both said they really like their work because it changes with the seasons.

“As soon as you get tired of checking guys in boats, it’s small game season,” King said. “You’re not doing the same thing all the time. There are so many things going on at the same time you’re checking fishermen during hunting season too.”

Brickel agreed.

“It doesn’t get tedious,” he said. “It’s a great job.”

Stationed in nearly every county of the state, DNR conservation officers have a wide range of duties including observing and checking hunters and anglers, enforcing snowmobiling, off-road vehicle and watercraft regulations as well as laws that protect the environment, and educating Michigan residents about outdoor recreation safety.

Conservation officers are also first responders to a variety of natural disasters and emergencies, and as fully licensed peace officers, they occasionally make arrests not related to natural resources violations.

For a closer look at what DNR conservation officers do on any given day, check out the television series “Wardens,” airing on the Outdoor Channel.

Since February 2017, the show – which chronicles the lives of conservation officers in America – has focused on the Michigan DNR’s law enforcement work and natural resources management efforts.

More information about the show and previews of upcoming episodes are available at

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.

To learn more about DNR conservation officers, visit

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/Note to editors: Contact: John Pepin 906-226-1352. Accompanying photos are available below for download and media use. Suggested captions follow. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources, unless otherwise noted.

Hunter: A Michigan conservation officer talks with a hunter at the base of his tree stand.

License: An angler waits while his fishing license is checked by Michigan Conservation Officer Jill Miller.

Officer: A Michigan conservation officer checks his state computer in his vehicle.

ORV: A Michigan conservation officer takes down information alongside an off-road vehicle.

Patrol: A Michigan conservation officer talks with a snowmobiler.

Ticket: Michigan Conservation Officer Jason King writes a ticket while on a boating patrol.

Wardens: From left, videographer Kristin Ojaniemi, hunters Paul Dishaw and his son, Tony Dishaw from Ishpeming, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Mark Leadman and DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell. Hunter Paul Dishaw of Ishpeming checks a 6-point buck he shot in Marquette County at the DNR check station in Marquette during the November 2016 firearm deer hunting season. The scene is captured by Ojaniemi for the "Wardens" television show.

Portrait photos of Michigan Conservation Officers Jason King and Will Brickel./

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to