Well-deserved support has been issued from many quarters in recent weeks for police officers, whose tireless and sometimes dangerous work often is underappreciated by the public.

The same case can be made for Department of Natural Resources conservation officers (COs), whose jobs involve far more than protecting fish and wildlife, important as those responsibilities are.

Example: Laws and regulations governing wetlands, snowmobiles and ATVs also fall under conservation officers' jurisdictions nowadays. Additionally, COs occasionally encounter unusual, disappointing, illegal and sometimes downright weird behavior — not only by wildlife but by people.

Consider an encounter CO Eric Sullivan of Walker had on July 4:

"I was patrolling Pleasant Lake near Hackensack,'' Sullivan said. "That's when I observed a pontoon boat with four or five youth on it, all wearing life jackets. I thought, 'What a great opportunity to make a positive contact and give the kids coupons I had for free Dairy Queens.' ''

Minnesota conservation officers carry the coupons to reward anglers and boaters under the age of 18 who are spotted wearing life jackets.

Pulling alongside the pontoon boat, Sullivan talked to the kids a short while and gave them their ice cream certificates. Then he checked three adults on board for their fishing licenses. One had his in possession, but the other two said theirs were back at their cabin.

Using a laptop computer he carries in his boat, Sullivan consulted a database of Minnesota fishing-license holders. One of the men had indeed purchased a license, and Sullivan issued him a warning for not having it in possession while fishing.

"But I couldn't find any information specific to the third individual, and finally he admitted he didn't have a fishing license,'' Sullivan said. "At that time I told him he would be getting a citation in the mail.''

Sullivan pushed off from the pontoon. But a short while later, he searched other records for the man's name, finding nothing.

"It was then the pontoon motored over to me and the fellow admitted he had given me a fake name,'' Sullivan said. "I was in shock and awe. The man was a father to one or more of the kids on the boat. He lied to me in front of them about having a fishing license. Then he lied to me in front of them about his name.

"He was very apologetic. I told him there was no need to apologize to me. But I didn't know how he would explain it to his kids.''

Other recent CO encounters with the public, and wildlife, include:

• Tim Collette of Pequot Lakes was patrolling when someone on a pontoon boat launched a wine bottle into the lake. Turns out the boat's occupants were part of a bachelor party. Collette made an arrest for boating while intoxicated, then arranged for the pontoon to be towed to shore. None of the group was sober enough to operate it.

• Luke Croatt of Wealthwood got a call about a possible deer poaching case, after the caller's dog found discarded white-tail carcasses. Upon investigation, Croatt learned the carcasses were from last hunting season. The dog had gotten away from its owner and wandered onto private property, where it found the old carcasses. Footnote: Neither the dog nor its owner was cited for violating trespassing or leash laws.

• Mary Manning of Hovland has been busy with bears, as bruins have been on the move searching for food. Cabin and homeowners have even had the animals break into their structures looking for dinner. Not all ends well for the most persistent of these miscreants. One was shot after making frequent consecutive nightly attempts to break and enter. The good news from Manning: The animal was gifted to a family for food.

• Bob Mlynar of Aitkin recently enforced angling, boating, invasive species and ATV laws and regulations, while also investigating — these are examples of laws COs weren't responsible for in days gone by — a solid waste complaint and lakebed alteration case. Mlynar also checked the fishing licenses of a young couple from Illinois. The pair were fishing on a husband/wife license but had different last names. When asked, they told Mlynar they were married the day they arrived in Minnesota. They said the marriage took place at the convenience store when they purchased the license.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com