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Refuge law enforcement officer Scott Pariseau check hunter licenses, equipment and hunting activity in order to make sure that hunting is conducted safely and following regulations. Photo by Mara Koenig/USFWS.

Refuge law enforcement officer Scott Pariseau check hunter licenses, equipment and hunting activity in order to make sure that hunting is conducted safely and following regulations. Photo by Mara Koenig/USFWS.

In the Wild and On the Beat

Wide Territory and Equally Wide Responsibility:
 A Federal Wildlife Officer in Minnesota

Scott Pariseau’s life and work have always revolved around outdoor adventure and exploration in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful places, private and public, across North America.

When he was young, his father brought him on wilderness fishing trips to Canada, where they camped on remote islands. Deer hunting trips to northern Minnesota included camping on public forest land in wall tents and using wood-burning stoves to keep warm. Pariseau once spent a month backpacking on the Superior Hiking Trail, and two summers working and exploring the wilds of Alaska. After high school and a brief stint at the University of Minnesota, Pariseau spent four years “working various jobs,” he said, to save up for trips to explore the American West. He backpacked and camped in national parks, forests and wildlife refuges.

“I remember one of many weekends hunting geese in the Lac qui Parle area, and while visiting with the state park ranger there, it occurred to me for the first time that working in this field would be a great job,” said Pariseau. “All of my experiences [in the outdoors] solidified my desire to make public land management my career.”

Currently, Pariseau is one of 10 federal wildlife officers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stationed throughout Minnesota. His job is similar to that of a state conservation officer. His primary office is the 14,000-acre Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which meanders along the Minnesota River for some 70 miles from roughly Bloomington to Henderson and runs through several counties, cities and townships. His enforcement area also includes the surrounding 14-county Minnesota Valley Wetland Management District.

The reach of his work, in physical space and responsibility, defines the everyday life of a wildlife officer: broad areas to monitor and control that extend beyond the boundaries of wildlife enforcement, mixed with an often deep personal connection to the line of work.

“While a state conservation officer may be responsible for an entire county, my duties and responsibilities are focused on the refuge and certain areas within my wetland management district,” said Pariseau, 39, who has worked at Minnesota Valley for nearly three years. “But we do a lot of the same work.”

On the beat

It’s late afternoon earlier this autumn, and Pariseau has just entered the refuge’s 2,100-acre Wilkie Unit, just south of the Minnesota River in Savage and Shakopee. It’s one of 10 management units (eight developed, which includes trails and parking lots and other infrastructure, and two undeveloped) that make up the refuge. The Wilkie Unit also features Rice Lake, a local waterfowl hunting hot spot.

Pariseau gets out of his truck as he sees a hunter, shotgun and small backpack in tow, coming back from the lake. The twenty-something waterfowler is dressed in flood plains camouflage.

“Hi. I’m a federal wildlife officer,” says Pariseau, pausing for a split second as the hunter gives him a quizzical look. “I’m a federal game warden.”

The moment the hunter hears “game warden,” he reaches into this backpack and retrieves his hunting license.

“How’s the hunting?” asks Pariseau, as he looks over the license.

“It’s a war zone out there,” says the hunter. “It’s hard to work ducks with so many people out there.”

While such interactions with the public are common, Pariseau’s duties exceed hunting regulation enforcement. Federal wildlife officers perform a range of law enforcement duties, including patrols, surveillance, investigations, apprehensions and arrests. Throughout his wetland district, Pariseau regularly monitors private conservation easements for compliance, as well as any action where waterfowl and their pursuers congregate. If a natural disaster (flood, hurricane, forest fire) occurs on public land, he may be dispatched as part of nationwide law enforcement response.

“It happens,” he said. “Typically, we’re on a plane within 12 or 24 hours from getting the call.”

Because Minnesota Valley is an urban refuge located in one of the state’s fast-growing regions, Pariseau’s job is often different from those near more rural refuges. On any one day, he could lead a search-and-rescue mission (refuge users often get lost, he said), or investigate a suicide in the refuge, or ensure that refuge boundaries aren't breached (residential incursions because of urban sprawl are commonplace, he said).

“Minnesota Valley is a high-use refuge with a lot of different user groups — from outdoor recreationists to hunters and anglers,” Pariseau said. A big part of his job is public relations. “Keeping everyone in compliance with refuge rules and regulations, not to mention happy, can be challenging,” he said.

One violation that rankles him is illegal dumping. Typically, each spring, he’ll find old tires, couches and even televisions that have been “dropped off” at the refuge. “It’s extremely frustrating,” Pariseau said. “The refuge isn't a dump.”

A word of caution to illegal dumpers: While such incidents are difficult to investigate, Pariseau said he takes great pride in doing so, adding that the maximum individual fine for such an offense is $5,000. “I’ll do everything I can to develop suspects,” he said.

‘It’s a great honor’

Pariseau has a two-year associate degree in wilderness management from Vermilion Community College in Ely and a bachelor’s degree in resource recreation and tourism from the University of Idaho. This year, he was named the Midwest Region Federal Wildlife Officer of the Year for his work.

“It’s a great honor, but there are far more deserving people in the agency who have been at this job a lot longer than I have,” said Pariseau. “But I do take great pride in fighting wildlife crimes.”

Take deer poaching. Pariseau investigated and helped close a case in 2014 involving a St. Cloud man at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge near Zimmerman. Pariseau worked there before heading to Minnesota Valley.

Collaborating with his colleagues at the state’s Department of Natural Resources and fish and wildlife agency, Pariseau began the investigation on a tip in 2011. According to the agency, the investigation team discovered a male poacher had illegally killed eight whitetail deer in a closed area of the refuge from 2006 to 2011. The man had mounted five of the deer and cut the antlers off the others. In a bizarre twist, the man referred to one of the deer as his “big eight-pointer,” eventually showing investigators a large tattoo on his back depicting the deer’s skull and antlers. The man also admitted to killing three deer off the refuge in violation of state law.

To the gratification of the investigators, the man was sentenced in federal court after pleading guilty to transporting an illegally taken deer. He was barred from hunting big game in the United States for five years and barred entry to the refuge. He also was ordered to do community service, and was put on probation.

“It felt good bringing a serial poacher to justice, but that’s just part of my job,” Pariseau said. “The combination of the outdoors and law enforcement appeals to me because someone needs to protect our public resources from being loved to death, and from those who choose to recklessly damage or abuse it.”

By Tori J. McCormick, Special to the Star Tribune

Republished with permission from the Star Tribune.

Last updated: January 6, 2016