Two high-ranking conservation officers (COs) with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources retired July 15, taking nearly 70 years of experience with them.
Maj. Phil Meier began his career with DNR fisheries in 1976 before becoming a conservation officer in 1990.
“I always wanted to become a CO, it was a goal from my earliest memories,” said Meier who in 1995 was promoted to lieutenant and served as a district supervisor in Mille Lacs Lake, Park Rapids, and Fergus Falls before being promoted to captain and DNR’s southern region enforcement supervisor at New Ulm in 2009.
In 2012, Meier was promoted to major and named the DNR Enforcement Division’s operations manager. The operations manager directs the division’s field operations, which includes public contacts and field response, customer service, human-wildlife management conflict, and law enforcement.
“It felt good to be part of an agency that protects what can’t protect itself,” Meier said. “And there are so many things out there, whether our traditional core work, such as Game and Fish enforcement, to aquatic invasive species, to water appropriations. Each is tied to our quality of life in Minnesota.”
Capt. Mike Hammer, a state conservation officer since 1985, carried on a tradition that began with his father, who served as a state conservation officer or game warden for 36 years, including time as DNR Enforcement chief.
“All of my mentors while growing up were game wardens,” Hammer said. “I got to ride along a lot as a kid, especially in the summer when they were checking fishermen. I learned how to treat people with respect, how to catch those who were stealing our natural resources and gained a great appreciation of nature’s wonder.”
He was promoted to 2nd lieutenant and regional training officer for the metro region in 1987. Prior to that, he served in the Fort Snelling, Mound, Bloomington and Hopkins field stations.
In 2004, Hammer was promoted to captain and named DNR Enforcement education program coordinator. During his tenure, more than 500,000 students have received safety training certification as a cornerstone of their future outdoor adventures.
“I had a great team of officers and staff, as well as thousands of volunteer instructors that have helped make Minnesota the leader in outdoor recreation safety nationally and internationally.”
Meier said the expectations of those recreating have never been greater.
“People today spend a large amount of money to purchase equipment for recreation and they have certain expectations, not only an area to ride, but it also has to be challenging and safe. Those type of expectations not only affect the enforcement division but the department,” said Meier.
The job of CO has changed.
“When I started we were still mostly focused on game and fish enforcement. Then ATVs, jet-skis, and the Wetlands Conservation Act, and then aquatic invasive species changed us to a broader environmental scope which is a challenge to balance with game and fish enforcement when there has been no recognizable increase in staffing in the past 60 years,” Hammer said.
Meier and Hammer retired on the same date that 10 new conservation officers graduated from the CO Academy at Camp Ripley.
Meier’s plans to spend more time with his wife and family, while Hammer has other plans.
“I’m not retiring; I’m repurposing my passions and continuing to look for ways to get kids involved in the outdoors,” he said.