The call Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Mitch Boyum received was urgent, asking him to drive from his home in St. Charles, in southeast Minnesota, to Lanesboro, 24 miles away.
Come quickly, the caller said. Bring your boat.
Campers were trapped on an island in the Root River. Heavy rain was falling, and the river was rising fast.
Adam Eide, the Rushford police chief, arrived in Lanesboro about the time Boyum did, as did Preston Police Department Sgt. Blaise Sass.
“Mitch and Blaise took Mitch’s boat into that fast current without concern for their safety,” Eide said, recalling the dramatic rescue that occurred a decade or so ago. “The ‘tilt’ on Mitch’s motor wasn’t working, so while he was steering the boat, he also had to hold the engine up. Blaise had to stand in the river and hold the boat from the side. It was amazing to watch. They got the campers off the island.”
A 19-year DNR veteran who by all accounts shuns the spotlight, Boyum, 46, nonetheless gained recognition recently when he was named the department’s Conservation Officer of the Year.
“Mitch is patient, fair and, I would say, a role model,” Eide said. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s human. He likes to laugh and joke around. He’s the kind of hunting buddy, for instance, who calls me when he bags a deer far from the road and wants help dragging it to his truck.”
Becoming a conservation officer (or CO) was a childhood dream of Boyum’s.
“I think I was in ninth grade when I saw Bob Wallace, the retired CO from Plainview, give a presentation in a high school ‘ag’ class,” Boyum said. “That got the fire burning for me to be a conservation officer. Also, my uncle is a retired state trooper, and he has always been an influence.”
Growing up in St. Charles, population about 3,700, Boyum as a kid immersed himself in southeast Minnesota’s bluffs and valleys, hunting and fishing. Whenever possible, his mother would drive him and a buddy, or buddies, three or four miles from town, and they would hunt their way home.
“This was the early 1980s, and back then we had ruffed grouse and quite a few pheasants around,” he said. “Grouse were probably our top pursuit, and deer. When my friends and I got our driver’s licenses, we could get out a little farther and hunt pheasants.”
After high school, Boyum attended Winona State University for a year before transferring to Vermilion Community College in Ely, which specializes in law enforcement and natural resources education.
“My friends and I ate a lot of grouse and fish while I lived in Ely,” he said.
Boyum moved to Stevens Point, Wis., after graduation, where he worked for a detective agency and, later, as a county park ranger. A return to southeast Minnesota followed, where he served as a Winona County water patrol officer before signing on with Fillmore County as a jail officer and, later, as a deputy.
“Four or five years after that, I got hired as a Winona Police Department officer,” Boyum said. “I kept applying with the state to be a conservation officer. Finally, after about a year in Winona, I was offered a chance to go to the conservation officer academy.”
In the nearly two decades since, Boyum has had plenty of time to measure the reality of being a conservation officer — and in some cases working 16 to 18 hours a day protecting the state’s natural resources — vs. his long-ago dream.
Such occupational calculus is not unusual among the DNR’s 146 field officers. Working out of their homes, they often are on duty, or at least on call, days on end. Nighttime assignments are routine, as are supper- and other family-time interruptions.
Additionally, with 22 field stations unfilled statewide, the officers must sometimes leave home to protect resources in coverage-gap areas, or to serve on special enforcement details.
“Certain situations I deal with can be frustrating,” Boyum acknowledged. “Neighbors sometimes don’t get along, and there often are trespassing issues to deal with. Some vehicle accidents I help out with also can be tough, as can times when you have to notify people of bad situations.
“But I can talk hunting and fishing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I can’t imagine doing anything but being a conservation officer.”
Lt. Tyler Quandt of Red Wing, Boyum’s supervisor, said the many positive relationships Boyum has developed with southeast Minnesota residents reflect the enthusiasm he brings to his job.
“Mitch genuinely likes being a conservation officer and I think that shows in the way he comes across to people,” Quandt said. “He’s very well liked in the community, by other law enforcement officers and definitely within the DNR.”
Boyum’s two sons, Brooks, 12, and Briggs, 8, are as eager to hunt and fish as their dad was when he was their age, and Boyum and his wife, Katrina, carve out as much time as possible to share these and other outdoor activities with their kids.
“Conservation officers have to manage work time and family time,” Boyum said. “There is no second shift that comes on when we’re done. If we’re off-duty and we get a phone call, it’s our responsibility. We will cover for one another if we can. But ultimately, the call is our responsibility.”