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Minnesota DNR report: Numerous cases of spruce top theft keep officers busy

Department of Natural Resources report for the week of Nov. 2, 2020.

District 5 — Eveleth area

Conservation Officer Shane Zavodnik (Cook) spent time finishing decorative material cases and completing vehicle maintenance over the past week.

Zavodnik received multiple complaints regarding spruce-top theft during the week, including one where an off-duty forester observed suspicious spruce-top activity. Initially, the suspect denied taking spruce tops on private property without permission, but quickly changed his tune when there was clear evidence that he was the culprit. Over 1,200 spruce tops were seized at the individual’s residence and enforcement action was taken.

Zavodnik also assisted local law enforcement with several physical domestic assault cases over the week and arrested an individual who was charged with a fourth-degree DWI.

CO Don Bozovsky (Hibbing) worked ongoing hunting seasons, state park enforcement and a detail at the Range Regional Airport. He also continued work on decorative materials theft and permit cases. Deer-baiting issues were also documented. Enforcement action was taken for failure to register a deer and ATV violations.

CO Matt Frericks (Virginia) and other COs assisted in providing security during Vice President Pence’s visit to Hibbing.


Frericks also spoke at a Rotary Club meeting and covered topics regarding ATV and snowmobile safety as well as deer-hunting rules and regulations.

Frericks assisted CO Zavodnik with the seizure of a large load of spruce tops and checked other bough cutters. T

ime was spent patrolling for and finding several deer baits. These baits were documented and samples were taken. Anyone hunting over these deer baits can expect a meeting with Frericks during the upcoming opening weekend of deer hunting.

CO Duke Broughten (Aurora) spent the past week monitoring fishing, hunting, and trapping activity. Grouse-hunting success has slowed significantly. Trappers also report limited success. Broughten also fielded calls of injured deer, trespass, and license questions.

CO John Slatinski IV (Ray) assisted with a security detail for Vice President Pence’s visit to Hibbing and fielded calls with questions in regard to trespass and upcoming hunting seasons.

Miscellaneous wildlife-related calls were dealt with. In one instance, an individual had been watching a deer off and on most of the summer when it had been fleeing from wolves and seeking safety by standing in the river. On the day of the call, the buck was found by the caller after being alerted to the scene by birds. The caller showed several pictures that told the tale throughout the year, with the wolves ultimately winning the cat-and-mouse game.

Decorative materials harvesting and netting activity filled out the remainder of the week.

CO Troy Fondie (Orr) reports continued monitoring of area forest roads and public access sites. He fielded numerous phone calls over the week on a variety of outdoor questions. Permits continue to be issued and nuisance wildlife dealt with. Watercraft winterization and various equipment work was completed.


District 6 — Two Harbors area

CO Sean Williams (Ely 1) reports duck-hunting activity saw a spike during the week as flights of birds arrived and then quickly left after several cold nights in the low teens froze over many lakes. Although several hunters attempted to hunt them during the short window, the sheets of ice made for difficult travel. Violations included taking antlerless deer in a bucks-only zone.

CO John Velsvaag (Ely 2) checked anglers and whitefish netters this past week. Both nearly stopped at the end of the week due to ice forming. Velsvaag also received multiple calls on deer-hunting regulations and questions on the new snaring requirements.

CO Thomas Wahlstrom (Grand Marais) spent the past week checking whitefish netters. He worked a detail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Basswood lake. Enforcement action was taken for whitefish netting, trapping and firearms violations.

CO Mary Manning (Hovland) followed up on cases from the bear season and began the hunt for early stands and deer bait. She spoke with local radio regarding firearms safety and the upcoming hunting season safety issues.

Manning also worked with U.S. Forest Service law enforcement on a deer-possession and extended camping case.

She checked a scattering of grouse hunters, checked trap sets and checked a few anglers still able to find open water and catch a few fish before the close of the inland trout season.

CO Anthony Bermel (Babbitt) worked whitefish netting, trapping, small-game, archery deer and duck hunters during the past week. There were a good number of diver ducks until Thursday night, when most lakes froze over. Enforcement action included taking a doe in a bucks-only area, leaving a trap out after the close of the applicable season, burning prohibited materials, and storage of personal property on state land.

CO David Schottenbauer (Silver Bay) spent the past week checking on deer stands and small-game hunters. Time was also spent checking whitefish-netting activity.


CO Kylan Hill (Tofte) reports conducting bear-hunting interviews after a few registration violations were uncovered that occurred during the season. Hill checked whitefish netters coming off of Fall, Newton and Basswood lakes in the Ely area earlier in the week. Those who went in a long distance found the most success.

A citation was issued to a person for a canoe-registration violation, and multiple warnings were issued to people for leaving their licenses at home and for transporting their boat to the access with the drain plug still in.

A medical call was responded to in Lutsen and an abandoned kayak on Cascade River State Park property was investigated.

CO Don Murray (Two Harbors) worked trapping and deer archery activity during the past week. Cold weather continued to make ice on area lakes and ponds. It is unsafe yet for even foot travel. Many hunters were observed preparing deer stands and hunting shacks for the upcoming firearms deer opener.

District 7 — Grand Rapids area

CO Jayson Hansen (Bigfork) checked anglers and small-game and waterfowl hunters. He also patrolled campgrounds, and for ATV riders and aquatic invasive species activity. Numerous game-and-fish questions were answered. He also responded to wildlife-related complaints

CO Mike Fairbanks (Deer River) checked hunters, monitored decorative material harvesting, responded to Turn in Poachers complaints and assisted the county with a pursuit and barricaded person. Fairbanks and his K9 partner, Si, also assisted in locating a suspect who fled into the woods and assisted in searching for spent shell casings from an ongoing criminal investigation.

Enforcement action was taken for license issues and taking deer with the use of bait.

CO Sarah Grell (Grand Rapids) spent time answering questions about the upcoming firearms deer season. She checked grouse and archery deer hunters. She continues to work on forest product theft.


CO Jimmy Van Asch (Pengilly) reports working angling, big-game, small-game, ATV and decorative forest product enforcement throughout the surrounding areas. Several deer hunters were contacted making last-minute preparations for the upcoming firearms deer season. Follow up was also completed on open investigations.

District 8 — Duluth area

CO Jacob Willis (Brookston) continued working big-game cases regarding the archery hunt in progress and followed up on Turn in Poachers calls regarding the upcoming firearms season.

Trespass complaints were also investigated. Willis and COC Brown also assisted local agencies with arresting a robbery suspect that resulted in additional controlled substance charges.

Enforcement action was taken for burning of prohibited materials and big-game tagging violations.

CO Andy Schmidt (Duluth West) followed up on a complaint of an illegal hunter in Duluth. The investigation led to a citation for hunting without a license and resulted in the seizure of an eight-point buck and a 10-point mule deer from North Dakota.

A complaint of beaver dam removal and illegal trapping was investigated. Baiting complaints and ATV complaints were handled during the week.

CO Kipp Duncan (Duluth East) continued to check small-game hunters throughout the past week. Duncan also checked trappers and archery deer hunters. Duncan followed up on calls and Turn in Poachers complaints, as well as shining complaint areas.

CO Scott Staples (Carlton) attended monthly K9 training at Camp Ripley. Time was also spent working a shining complaint and following up on a tip where a deer was supposedly shot and left to go to waste.


A nuisance-bear complaint was received. Advice was given for a bear that is still not hibernating and obviously still hungry because it is getting into garbage cans and bird feeders.

Lake Superior Marine Unit

CO Keith Olson (Lake Superior Marine Unit) worked pre-firearms deer season baiting complaints in and around the Duluth area. A shining complaint was also worked with fellow district officers.

There are reports of salmon being caught on Lake Superior in the Duluth and Knife River waters. He did boat safety checks on boats launching on Lake Superior.

Numerous calls are being fielded on the upcoming firearms deer season.

Katie Rohman has served as the managing editor of the Duluth News Tribune since 2019. She started with Duluth Media Group in 2017 as regional editor of the Superior Telegram, Pine Journal, Lake County News-Chronicle, Eastern Observer and Western Weekly. She has worked in newspapers around the Midwest since 2004.
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