Introducing the U.P.‘s only female conservation officer

Jenny Hanson, Michigan Department of Natural Resources officer.

By 8-18 Media
The Upper Peninsula is full of magnificent wildlife, miles of forest, pristine lakes and rivers. It is the job of a DNR conservation officer to help protect our forests, to help manage the wildlife and to help people safely enjoy all of the natural beauty the U.P. has to offer.
Jenny Hanson, 25, of Ironwood is the only female DNR Conservation officer in the U.P. She went to NMU, where she studied outdoor recreation and leadership management. Her minor was emergency medical services. She has been working for the DNR for two years.
Hanson said that despite the tough training to become a DNR officer, it did not deter her from pursuing this career path.
“The training to become a conservation officer is very tough. It’s a 6-month-long police academy, with an additional 18 weeks of field training throughout the state. I have always loved spending time outside and being an advocate for the outdoors. With this career I get to be outside all day and also encourage other people to enjoy the outdoors too and to do it safely,” said Hanson.
Although it has been a predominantly male profession, she encourages other women to become DNR officers.
“Law enforcement is typically men, it always has been. I’m not sure why. The word ‘policeman’ is far more common than ‘policewoman’. Hunting and fishing are also a predominantly male hobby,” Hanson said. “I would most definitely encourage more women to become conservation officers. Society is shifting and women are growing in this profession. It is more common and accepted these days.”
Whether you’re out on the water or in the woods, Hanson has some safety tips.
“My biggest safety tip is be prepared. Bring a backpack full of things you may need such as food, water, change of socks, first aid kit, map, compass, etc…and even bring things you don’t think you’ll need. If it’s a day hike you might not think to bring a flashlight or headlamp, but if you get lost, and now it’s getting dark, you may want that flashlight to help you see. It doesn’t hurt to over-pack, but if you under-pack you will be sorry.
If you come across a bear, don’t run. Everyone in the group should slowly start to move together, and raise your arms above your head to make your group look bigger. It’ll seem silly, but talk to the bear in a stern voice, ‘HEY BEAR. I SEE YOU BEAR!’ The bear will most likely be more afraid of you and when you start to get louder and bigger, he will probably turn and walk away. A situation you don’t want to be in is if you’re in between a mother and her cub,” said Hanson.
With summer right around the corner, Hanson also has advice to keep boaters and swimmers safe.
“Always wear a lifejacket. That’s very important, because if you have one in the boat or you’re sitting on one, and you get tipped out of the boat, that’s when you’ll need it most. Wear a lifejacket. Also, don’t go out past your comfort level. There is a chance you may have to swim back to shore and if you’re not the best swimmer, don’t go further than what you’re comfortable with,” Hanson explained.
Most jobs revolve around a desk, or a computer, or an office building, but Hanson’s job revolves around the outdoors in general. A typical work day is full of fresh air and adventure.
“It depends on the season. During the winter I will check a lot of snowmobilers to make sure they are stopping at stop signs, they have the proper stickers and registration on their snowmobiles, and to ensure that everyone is being safe,” Hanson said. “Come summer, I will be on the boat a lot. I will check fishermen, their fishing licenses, and their boat registrations. I love this job because it’s always something different.”
Hanson also made the news for rescuing snowmobilers in Ontonagon County this past February. A group of four snowmobilers were stranded on a frozen river. Hanson explained her mindset during the rescue mission.
“I had already worked a full shift that day, so I was very exhausted. I had to snowmobile down a closed road about four miles, and then hike up a frozen river on snowshoes for another three miles. I was wearing big heavy snowmobile gear, so walking on snowshoes was pretty difficult. Plus, the river wasn’t entirely frozen, so there were times my foot would break through the ice. Then my winter boot, my snowshoe, and the bottom of my snow pants were soaking wet, making my legs feel like 400 pounds. I was very tired, but as soon as we found those guys and saw that they were okay and safe, it was so rewarding. Their situation could have been so much worse, but we were prepared to get them out safely,” said Hanson.
Some days are more challenging than others, but Hanson said she has a stand out favorite day. It was the day when she rescued two little bear cubs.
“Kayakers heard the cubs crying, and they thought they were taking care of the cubs by scooping them up, but all they did was put human scent on the cubs. Now momma bear won’t take them back. We gave the bears to a Wildlife Biologist of the DNR who was able to reintroduce the cubs with a different mother. They can reintroduce by rubbing Vicks Vapor Rub on a sleeping mother bear in a den and then rub Vicks on all her cubs, as well as the new cubs. When she wakes up, they all smell the same. Bears can’t count, so if she went to sleep with three and wakes up with five, she’ll never know. Another tactic is a mother bear will send her cubs up a tree, and the biologists will send the new cubs up the same tree, so when they all come down the mother wouldn’t know the difference. So, lesson learned: don’t touch bear cubs. Same goes with fawns and other baby animals. Don’t touch them, because mother should be nearby. It was rewarding knowing that the cubs were able to join a different family and not have to be put down,” said Hanson.
Hanson also has some words for kids who are looking to be DNR officers when they grow up.
“My advice is to get outside and be comfortable outdoors. There are times where we need to be outdoors for a long period of time; whether it be below freezing temperatures in the winter, or 100-degree heat in the summer,” Hanson explained. “So, being able to be comfortable outside is a plus. Also, just get outside, go hiking, go fishing, go hunting. Being familiar with fishing laws and hunting laws will set you up for success in this career. Just get outside and enjoy nature.”
Easy enough to do when the U.P. is your year-round natural playground.

(Written by Liam Ulland-Joy, 14 and Anna Martinson, 14 with contributions by Anja McBride, 14, Ava Larson, 13, Bria Larson, 12, Alex Larkin, 12, Esme Ulland-Joy, 10 and Mahogany Harris, 9.)

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