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DNR conservation officer Mike Lawrence will retire Aug. 5

After 26 years as a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, Mike Lawrence, an icon to hunters, anglers and outdoors enthusiasts, is retiring. Although a new game warden will soon fill the position, Lawrence's enforcement marks the end of an era.

Born the son of a conservation officer in Hallock, Lawrence attended the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) School and served in Worthington for three years before moving to the Park Rapids area.

Once Mike Lawrence officially retires on Aug. 5, his plans include enjoying the opening seasons as a participant instead of an enforcer. The previous 26 small game, duck, deer and fishing openers have been spent in the fields and on the water in uniform.

Over lunch, Lawrence reflected on the past and provided insight into the life of a State Conservation Officer.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people I've encountered are good people. The majority are happy to see you, the others simply make mistakes," says Lawrence.

When asked about some of the interesting interactions and stories from his life as a game warden, Lawrence noted that day to day occurrences, interesting or not, are mostly forgotten.

"I simply move on to the next day," he says, "but if I wrote you a citation ten years ago, I remember that".

Speaking of citations, Lawrence says he experiences about three warnings for each ticket issued. "More people talked themselves into a ticket than have ever talked themselves out of a ticket -it's all about attitude. If you rip up a warning and throw it on the ground, it's written up again as a citation."

Lawrence says that the best part of his job is the people he encounters. The most difficult aspect is property and lakeshore issues.

"Some people spend a substantial amount of money for a piece of property, then find out they can't change it in a certain way and become upset with the conservation officer, not realizing that we don't make the rules, but are required to enforce them."

As for the typical day in the life of a conservation officer, Lawrence says that each day is different.

"A conservation officer doesn't have eight hour days, we work until the job is done and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Throughout the spring, Lawrence spends his nights sitting near creeks where fish like northern pike and walleye move up to spawn and are susceptible to illegal harvest. This usually begins around April 1 and this year extended past the opening of the walleye season due to the late spring. "In all my years I have never seen as many big walleyes as I did this past spring," says Lawrence.

During the summer, he might check boats, interview anglers and respond to issues dealing with aquatic invaders, such as zebra mussels and milfoil. Weekends often see him cruising the Paul Bunyan State Forest to regulate ATV and dirt bike operation. Yet autumn remains Lawrence's favorite season of all.

"The weather's nice, there aren't any bugs and there's lots of activity both in the woods and on the water."

Fall finds Lawrence and other officers working a fair amount of nights to catch people illegally shining deer. This often includes four or five squads in addition to an airplane to aid in apprehension.

As for the new officer fulfilling Lawrence's position, he says that they'll be fortunate to live here.

"Park Rapids is one of the few areas of the state that has everything. For a conservation officer, it's almost overwhelming."