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DNR welcomes 12 new conservation officers to protect Michigan’s natural resources, ensure public safety

One of the most selective law enforcement academies in the state, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Academy hosted graduation Friday at the Michigan State Police Training Academy in Lansing, welcoming 11 men and one woman into the ranks of some of the most highly trained law enforcement professionals in Michigan.

Fifteen candidates initially were selected from nearly 400 applicants to be a part of Recruit School #11 – the DNR’s 23-week training academy that stared July 10.

“Congratulations to Michigan’s newest conservation officers, and thank you for your service and willingness to step into this unique and valued law enforcement career,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “Conservation officers play an important role in protecting our state’s natural resources, ensuring that our children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy the same hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor traditions we are fortunate to have today. Whether your work is on land or water, we wish each of you a long, safe and successful career as you honor your commitment to caring for our communities and treasured outdoor spaces.”

While their primary mission is to enforce fish, game and natural resource protection laws, conservation officers serve a unique role as certified law enforcement officers with authority to enforce all of Michigan’s criminal laws. Because of their specialized training and versatility, conservation officers often are first responders to situations involving medical emergencies, missing persons and public safety threats.

“It’s an honor to welcome the DNR’s newest conservation officers into the law enforcement family,” said Dave Shaw, chief of the DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Our staff takes great pride in training these recruits, physically and mentally, so they are prepared to handle any situation they’re presented as officers.”

Conservation officers receive training to operate specialized vehicles, such as four-wheel-drive trucks, off-road vehicles and patrol boats – everyday tools to patrol Michigan’s lakes, rivers, streams, and state land and forests.

Recruits were challenged in a variety of ways as they underwent training to qualify for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards testing, in addition to specialized training in conservation law.

“I am very passionate about protecting Michigan’s natural resources, and I love the standard that conservation officers hold themselves to,” said probationary Conservation Officer Joey Closser, who represented Recruit School #11 as the graduation speaker. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and make a positive difference in the state of Michigan.”

The academy began each morning with physical training, building the recruits’ strength to prepare them for physical fitness testing and the career demands of a conservation officer. Following physical training and room inspections, recruits received classroom instruction and various skills training.

Each week recruits were tested through both written exam and scenarios. In the scenario testing, recruits entered staged situations in which they had to demonstrate their learned skills to resolve a conflict.

“Experiencing this journey with my class and becoming a team as Recruit School #11 was the best part of this journey,” Closser said. “Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. You can do way more than you think you can. The instructors brought out the best in us and gave us all the tools we need to professionally and safely make a positive difference for our state.”

Next month, the new officers will begin their probationary field training, partnered with veteran officers, and receive additional training before reporting to their permanent county assignments.

The new probationary conservation officers, their hometowns and Michigan county assignments upon completing field training are:

  • Michael Anderson, from L’Anse, assigned to Baraga.
  • Brandon Benedict, from Muskegon, assigned to Shiawassee.
  • Les Bleil, from Pontiac, assigned to Wayne.
  • Wesley Butler, from Grand Rapids, assigned to Clinton.
  • Joseph Closser, from Woodhaven, assigned to Saginaw.
  • Griffin Korican, from Ann Arbor, assigned to Oakland.
  • Jordan Luz, from Grand Ledge, assigned to Eaton.
  • Nickalaus McNamee, from Bennett, Colorado, assigned to Saginaw.
  • Jacob Robinson, from Boyne City, assigned to Montcalm.
  • Steven Sajtar, from Battle Creek, assigned to Menominee.
  • Peter Shambaugh, from Ann Arbor, assigned to Ontonagon.
  • Elliot Worel, from Spring Lake, assigned to Calhoun.

Founded in 1887, the DNR Law Enforcement Division is Michigan’s oldest statewide law enforcement agency.

Learn more about the work of conservation officers and explore the Recruit School #11 weekly blog posts and photos (available to download) at

Note to editors: An accompanying photo is available below for download. Caption information follows.

Class photo: Members of Recruit School #11 pose with academy and executive staff from the Michigan DNR Law Enforcement Division on the state Capitol steps Friday in Lansing. In January, the 12 probationary conservation officers – 11 men and one woman – will continue their training by rotating county assignments to receive real-life experience in handling fish, game, recreational safety, general criminal and other situations.