LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (Nov. 19, 2012) — “Hi, Paul!” was enthusiastically repeated dozens of times recently as students and staff greeted State Conservation Officer Paul Kuske of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as he led a group of future conservation officers into Pioneer Elementary School in Pierz.
The visit to the Minnesota DNR Division of Enforcement at Camp Ripley was twofold. It served to show Minnesota’s next group of conservation officers the importance of building trust and community support in their first field assignments, and for practice in sharpening their public speaking skills.
Kuske has spent his nearly 25 years as a conservation officer in Pierz. A regular presence in Pierz schools from the beginning, he initiated visits by Conservation Officer Academy candidates at Camp Ripley in 2004 as a way to show the importance of community relations.
“The students get to see you as a real person, you get to know them on a first-name basis, and that leads to greater compliance of natural resources laws as they grow older,” Kuske said.
Sixth grade teacher Steve Holbrook said Kuske understands the importance of being visible, being available, and sharing knowledge with students and staff, a lesson he hopes the future conservation officers’ learned.
“Officer Kuske will see many of the students in the field so it’s important to him that they see him as someone on their side instead of someone to be afraid of or someone to avoid,” Holbrook said. “Education is an important part of who he is.”
Holbrook added, “Paul’s philosophy is if you can teach someone what is ‘right’ and ‘why’ it is right then he won’t have to address it when they get older.”
Honing their public speaking skills the conservation officer candidates provided a series of natural resources presentations to Pioneer Elementary’ s 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes.
“I was amazed by the good questions they asked, obviously many of the families hunt,” said conservation officer candidate Steve Chihak said. “It was fun.”
Following the presentations the officers joined the students in the cafeteria for lunch, munching on pizza while surrounded by appreciative, inquisitive students.
“It’s important for the COC’s to understand that we just don’t enforce laws, but we and the DNR are engaged members of our communities as well,” Kuske said.
The future of Minnesota’s natural resources seems to be in good hands in Pierz.