Mike Lee is perhaps the newest face in Crosslake, taking up the charge of area conservation officer (CO).
Working in law enforcement is a job Mike had wanted for a long time, and he now has 19 years experience.
“My mom and dad said when I was little, all I talked about was being a police officer,” Mike said. He enjoys helping people.
He said many people might not realize that conservation officers are licensed peace officers, with the same training and abilities as standard police officers and deputies.
Mike’s latest position was at the Isle station on Mille Lacs, where he patrolled both on and off the lake. February marks his seventh year with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and he has 12 years of law enforcement experience prior to that.
Mike is originally from Sebeka, but has worked in International Falls as a police officer and in Deerwood, where he was a dispatcher and on the dive team.
Mike recalled one instance on the dive team where he sat in the driver’s seat of a submerged vehicle and kept its tires straight as it was pulled from the water.
Today, Mike teaches use of force, firearms training and emergency vehicles operation at an academy. All police officers take the courses yearly, he said.
He was also on the tactical (SWAT) team for 11 years.
Mike, his wife and his four kids, ages 4 to 12, are in the process of relocating to the area. He said he likes the area and has in-laws nearby.
Mike said he made the transition from police officer to conservation officer for a few reasons. He loves hunting and fishing and felt a position as conservation officer was more conducive to family life.
“You can share a lot more of what your day-to-day job is,” Mike said of being a CO.
The variety is nice, too. His day varies greatly based on the season, and he said no incident is ever the same.
Topping Mike’s list of favorite outdoor activities is waterfowl hunting. He’d give up every other type of hunting for waterfowl, he said, because waterfowl hunting allows the opportunity to spend a lot more time with fellow hunters and talk.
He’s hunting with his 12 year-old son the same way that his grandfather and father spent time hunting with him.
Over the past seven years as a CO, Mike’s seen a few interesting things. He once witnessed an angler chop the tails off fish in front of him to make them fit the slot limit.
He also recalled an incident in Isle in which a sow and two cubs had been hanging out in the Isle area. Sadly, one of the cubs was hit by a car, crushing its back legs. Mike and fellow officers had to distract the sow in order to collect the cub. Despite efforts to save the cub, it didn’t make it.
One of Mike’s endeavors as the Crosslake area CO is to start a program he ran in Isle called Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs. A precursor to the DARE program, COs meet with students once a week for six weeks to teach them good decision-making and self-esteem. At the end of the program students are provided fishing gear to keep and a day of fishing.
He said the program was a success in Isle, and hopes he can achieve that in this area, as well.
Mike’s said his No. 1 duty is public safety. His passion for his job is evident in his involvement and history in the field.
“I truly believe this job is so important, protecting the natural resources we have. I want my kids to be able to experience all the things I have,” Mike said.
Mike’s territory in the Crosslake area runs from roughly the middle of Whitefish to the Aitkin County line, and from the Cass County line in the north to County Road 11 in the south.