MONTEVIDEO — It was his mother who put in the effort that made the difference, her blunders included.
Ed Picht was 14-years-old and already an avid duck hunter. The sun was yet to rise when his mother drove across the field and dropped him off at the slough. The first, early light revealed ducks starting to stir and lift from the water.
And that’s when mom began blasting the automobile horn BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, scattering the ducks. Her son was fuming. “I’m just mad mom. What is going on,’’ said Picht, describing the incident from his youth.
“There were ducks flying and I wanted to get your attention,’’ he said his mother answered.
“I had a lot of good times growing up,’’ laughed Picht. His mother, Barbara Picht-Roles, may not have been much of a hunter, but her willingness to support his love for the outdoors had a lot to do with his career today, he explained.
For seven years now, Ed Picht has served as a Minnesota Conservation Officer based in Montevideo. He credits his mother’s support and outdoor adventures with his older brother Wesley with fostering his appreciation for the outdoor life. Picht spoke April 23 during the annual meeting of the Friends for the Upper Sioux Agency State Park.
He’s been the lead investigator for a number of much- publicized fish and game law cases, the most recent a deer poaching case in Lac qui Parle County. The Minnesota Chapter of The Wildlife Society awarded him its law enforcement award for dedication and service to the protection of Minnesota’s resources in 2010.
His interest in law enforcement came early. When he was in kindergarten, he drew a picture of himself as sheriff of Stevens County.
The Chokio-native started his law enforcement career in Douglas County, where he worked as a part time sheriff’s deputy under then-Sheriff Bill Ingebrigtsen. He worked law enforcement in Glenwood too before he took his first full time position in Anoka County.
That led to marriage and a sheriff’s deputy position with Wright County for six years. He worked the night shift and for four of those years as the K9 officer. The night time duties often exposed him to the worst. “Ninety-nine percent of the people I deal with from 10 o’clock at night to 6 in the morning are not your class A citizens,’’ said Picht.
That’s just the opposite of his role today as a conservation officer. He likes to point out that 99 percent of those he meets in the field are good people.
It was while he was serving as the night-time deputy in Anoka that Picht said he realized he wanted to combine his love for the outdoors with his law enforcement interests, and applied to become a Conservation Officer.
Ely, Madison, Montevideo, and Minnetonka were the openings available. His wife Tammy, who today is the owner and instructor at Dance Haven in Montevideo, initially suggested Minnetonka.
His answer: “I’m not going to be a game warden in the city. I can’t do it. It defeats the purpose really. I need to get back out there to the real world.’’
Today, he and CO partner Craig Miska, Ortonville, are responsible for much of the Upper Minnesota River area.
Conservation officers are responsible for much larger geographic areas than was the case years ago. And, they have more laws to enforce. Along with fish and game laws, they are responsible for enforcing snowmobile and off-highway vehicle laws, wetland, invasive species and other environmental regulations. Picht and Officer Neil Henriksen of Benson once pulled the duty of checking on whether horseback riders in state parks carried state trails passes. “Walking up to horses is not like walking up to snowmobiles,’’ he laughed.
Picht said that behavior cues from those he meets in the field can often tip him off that things are not right and some investigation is needed. Other times, he walks right in on the violations.
On one such occasion he came across a pair of men, each with two fishing lines in the Minnesota River. They had a cooler packed with 36 catfish and a 10-foot long stringer dangling another 14. One of the men happened to own a restaurant in Missouri. He attempted to excuse their transgressions by telling Picht that he’d heard “nobody cares about catfish up here.’’
“Not true,’’ answered the officer.
People care about their deer too. Tips from people about suspected poaching activities lead to many of the investigations and ultimately, arrests. He said that people who shoot deer outside of legal hours is probably a more frequent violation in this area than is baiting.
Until Minnesota lengthened its firearm season, another problem was “running and gunning’’ or people who chased and shot deer from their vehicles.
One time he was waiting in the darkness when a shot rang out a full two hours before legal shooting time. A buck went down. Picht interviewed 20 people within a one-mile radius of the area where the shot was heard in hopes of making the case.
He couldn’t. The suspect denied everything and had cleaned out his vehicle thoroughly before meeting with the officer.
Some violators don’t get the chance to cover things up. One day Picht was patrolling during the deer firearm season when the crackle and spatter of radio chatter came over the monitor in his pickup truck. “Station one to central command’’ went the talk as central command relayed the whereabouts of a deer. “It was like they were playing war with this deer,’’ said Picht.
He followed the signal to a farm yard. There, atop the roof of a barn overlooking the valley he spotted an orange-clad radio operator, the apparent “central command.” Nearby were others in orange, carrying radios along with their shotguns. “They got in a little trouble for doing that,’’ he said.
In many other cases, taking enforcement action requires loads of investigatory work. Picht emphasized that he does not bring a case forward until he is confident it is airtight.
Conservation officers also routinely provide assistance to other law enforcement agencies. He’s helped officers wrestle unruly suspects, responded to accident and fire scenes, and gone along with officers to homes where he’s witnessed children living in appalling conditions.
Last winter he took his airboat to Lake Benton and devoted a week to helping search for the bodies of two who had gone through the ice. Anguished family members watched the searchers from the shore.
Difficult assignments all, but Picht said the rewards of being a conservation officer more than make up for the heart-wrenching duties it can also bring. For him, the biggest reward is always the good people he meets in the field.
“You know, 99 percent of my contacts are really just a conversation,’’ he said.
In every encounter, he always remembers how much his mother and others influenced him as a youth. He knows how much influence a conservation officer can have on people’s lives, especially when it comes to young people. “We can never take that for granted,’’ he said. “We need to really portray a positive experience for people in our day-to-day contacts.’’