Conservation officers do great work in sub-zero temps

With record-setting temperatures and ice storms over the past two weeks along with relentless snowfall expected today, life in the Upper Peninsula has been particularly tough as of late. However, crews have responded very quickly to the power outages, traffic accidents, and poor driving conditions caused by this spell of bad weather.

A lot of appreciation has been given to the Upper Peninsula Power Company, Marquette Board of Light and Power, local police and fire departments, road crews, and more — and it is well-deserved. But there is another local agency who has certainly risen to the occasion, and we want to make sure they aren’t overlooked — our local conservation officers.

“Our conservation officers respond to dangerous, potentially life-threatening incidents on a regular basis, providing aid and comfort to those in need of help,” DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler said.

With temperatures dropping to 18 degrees below zero, rescuers in Alger County were sent to Clyde Lake in late January to find three snowmobilers whose sleds had fallen through the ice into the water.

Conservation officer Mark Zitnik and U.S. Forest Service officer Dave Tembruell were the last dispatched to the scene, but the first to find the snowmobilers.

“We found them huddling around a fire, soaking wet,” Zitnik said.

With a stream feeding into the lake, the ice the riders’ sleds dropped through measured only about an inch thick. The water was 3 to 4 feet deep.

One of the snowmobilers had climbed a ridge to reach enough cellphone signal to notify county dispatchers. EMS personnel treated the men and officers got them safely back to their vehicle. The following day, the three sleds were pulled from the lake.

What follows is a review of several of the reported incidents Jan. 25-31 in Region 1, which includes districts headquartered in Marquette, Newberry, Gaylord and Roscommon.

– Seven conservation officers assisted the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office in the search for a missing 25-year-old Northern Michigan University student who had traveled to the Yellow Dog River to hike and take photographs Jan. 24.

– CO Johnathan Kamps assisted with a vehicle that was stuck in a ditch in Marquette County. To ensure the passengers’ safety due to the minus 10-degree temperatures, Kamps waited until a tow truck was able to remove the vehicle.

– On Jan. 26, CO Cody Smith was heading to assist with the search and rescue efforts at the Yellow Dog River when he came upon a pickup truck that had hit black ice and spun into a ditch. Smith ensured that the occupants were unharmed and warm while waiting for a tow truck.

– CO Jared Ferguson received a call late in the evening from a fellow state employee who was stuck in a ditch between Harvey and Munising. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employee had been unable to contact any help. He had Ferguson’s cell phone number in his phone from a case they worked together six years prior. Ferguson was able to arrange for someone to quickly go to assist.

– While on patrol in Menominee County, CO Jeremy Sergey and probationary CO Noah Thompson responded to a single-vehicle crash on U.S. 41 near Willow Road. When the officers arrived, they saw the vehicle had left the highway, went through a guard rail and traveled about 100 yards before crashing into a tree. The driver of the vehicle had several deep lacerations to each of his hands. The officers rendered first aid until EMS arrived.

– CO Zach Painter received reports of a roughly 70-year-old snowmobiler who had gotten separated from his group earlier that day on Lake Gogebic and could not be located. Painter was notified early in the afternoon and responded to Bergland where the subject had been seen earlier in the day. Painter located the man, uninjured, at a local bar, looking for his group.

Extreme weather conditions, as difficult as they can be to get through, really illustrate the fantastic work that local departments do, and shows how ready and willing they are to answer the call. We appreciate all that these agencies do, and they deserve our recognition.

For more information on Michigan conservation officers, visit the DNR’s website at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers.

— The Mining Journal (Marquette)