Two tribal conservation officers from northern Minnesota have died this summer in separate incidents, adding to a spate of tragedy among game wardens that started with four unrelated deaths of officers at the Department of Natural Resources.
Red Lake Nation Conservation Officer Shannon Lee “Opie” Barron, 48, died July 7 of a heart attack after answering a poaching call at the end of his work shift. Eight days earlier, White Earth Conservation Officer Richard Ervin Fox Jr., 54, died in an off-duty motorcycle crash in Idaho while touring with his brother, Robert.
Minnesota DNR Enforcement Chief Rodmen Smith paid tribute to the fallen officers by sending the agency’s honor guard to both funerals.
“Both men served with distinction to protect people and natural resources,” Smith said. “That shared commitment binds us together as conservation law enforcement officers, and we mourn their passing and salute their service.”
Officer Barron is a former Red Lake police officer who was born in Minneapolis and raised Up North by his aunt. He graduated from Red Lake High School in 1987 and worked the past 19 years as a Red Lake Nation conservation officer. He left a wife and two children.
According to the Red Lake Nation News, Barron radioed for emergency medical help for himself after clearing the poaching call. First-responders worked to save his life and rushed him to a hospital, where he died.
His obituary said he was an avid hunter, fisherman and trapper who tanned his own hides and donated his game to elders in need. “Opie was a very generous and kind man who loved helping others whenever he could,” the obituary said. “He was quite the cook and enjoyed cooking for others … was very artistic, loved to tell jokes, was well known and a loved friend.”
DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen issued a statement of mourning and said Minnesota and Red Lake Nation share a common mission to protect natural resources. “Officer Barron’s legacy of upholding that mission will never be forgotten,” she said.
Officer Fox was a skilled carpenter who worked by his father’s side to build houses for the White Earth Housing Authority. As a conservation officer, he was noted for his extraordinary powers of observation. He specialized in tracking fugitives, poachers and missing or lost people. He helped construct St. Philips Episcopal Church in Rice Lake, Minn., and was said to have an “immense body of friends.”
Fox’s obituary said he was an avid Minnesota sports fan with a memorable, infectious laugh who was devoted to his four children. He was a mentor to “countless” White Earth youth and had a passion for protecting the environment and wildlife of his native home.
The unlikely run of conservation officer deaths in Minnesota started in late August last year, when 26-year-old DNR Conservation Officer Kyle Quittschreiber of Frazee was accidentally pinned under a tractor. Since then, Officer Ed Picht, 40, of the Montevideo area, died of suicide; Officer Chelsie Grundhauser, 30, of North St. Paul, died of cancer, and Officer Eugene Wynn, 43, drowned April 19 during a rescue mission on Cross Lake near Pine City.