By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie native Bob Mlynar, a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, will be honored by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) for his efforts in conserving America’s wildlife.
Mlynar, of Aitkin, will be recognized as the NWTF’s Minnesota Wildlife Law Enforcement Officer of the Year during its 34th annual national convention and sports show Thursday to Sunday, Feb. 18 to 21 in Nashville, TN.
Mlynar said he was very honored and proud to earn the award, but he gives most of the credit for his success to the birds.
“Turkeys are extremely adaptable and hardy,” Mlynar said. “They are doing well in areas where nobody thought they would.”
Mlynar became involved with turkeys, and with the NWTF, soon after turkey hunting was introduced in Minnesota.
The state’s first turkey season took place about 1978, Mlynar said, and he got his first license in 1984.
At that time, turkey hunting was limited to a small area in the southeast part of the state, roughly southeast of a line from Red Wing to Rochester.
Today, through the efforts of the NWTF and others, turkey hunting has expanded to a much larger area, roughly south of a line from Moorehead to Bemidji to Duluth.
Mlynar grew up in Lester Prairie, and graduated from Lester Prairie High School.
Along with some others, he organized the Hutchinson chapter of the NWTF, called the Crow River Cutters.
The group conducted annual fundraising banquets and sponsored annual youth days featuring outdoor activities for kids.
The group conducted its first release of turkeys between Hutchinson and Litchfield in the early 1990s, and the populations grew to a point where it was viable for hunting soon after.
In those days, the push was to introduce turkeys into new areas of the state, Mlynar explained. More recently, the focus has shifted to preserving habitat.
In 1996, Mlynar moved to Aitkin, and within a couple years, he started the Aitkin Chapter of the NWTF.
This group conducted turkey releases in 2006 and 2007, and is planning to have the first hunting season in the area in 2011.
Mlynar admires the resilience of the turkeys, and is amazed at how well the birds have done in areas where it was once thought they wouldn’t survive.
“They’ve been proving us wrong for more than 20 years,” Mlynar said. “I’ll never bet against them.”
He said it’s easy to be excited about the success of the organization, because he can see the success of the birds.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this organization has done more for the animal it is concerned with than any other organization I have been involved with,” he said.
His group is in the process of applying for grant money to improve the turkey habitat in the Aitkin area.
The goal of the project is to protect young nut-bearing trees from damage caused by deer browsing. This will be accomplished by the installation of fencing. These trees are important not only for turkeys, but for other animals as well, Mlynar said.
Statewide, the turkey population is at an all-time high, Mlynar said.
“We are harvesting more birds every year. In general, they are doing very well. We have more permits available than we have ever had,” he added.
Mlynar has been a conservation officer working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for nearly 14 years. He covers a 150-square-mile territory in the Aitkin area.
He said this is small by state standards, but his territory includes quite a few lakes.
“There is plenty to do when fishing is going on,” Mlynar said, adding that fishing is going on a lot of the time.
Mlynar said the activities that earned him the award are outside of what people typically consider when they think about law enforcement.
He credits a lot of the people he has worked with along the way, including the volunteers who are interested in the good of the turkeys.
“I appreciate their help,” Mlynar said.
He has earned other awards over the years, including a lifesaving award that he received when he and other conservation officers found a lost hunter and brought him out of a swamp.
Mlynar is the son of Ed Mlynar and the late Florence Mlynar of Lester Prairie.
He lives in Aitkin with his wife, Jayne. They have two adult sons, Kyle and Brett.
The NWTF initiated the award in 2000 to acknowledge top officers across North America.
“Robert’s optimistic demeanor and ability to create a successful approach to complex cases has established him as a leader among his peers,” said Marlo Sloan, NWTF Minnesota state chapter president. “He has an exemplary work history and deserves this recognition.”
By earning the State Wildlife Officer of the Year award, Mlynar and the other state winners are eligible for the NWTF’s National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award, which will be presented during the NWTF’s awards banquet Saturday, Feb. 20
The NWTF is a national nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of the country’s hunting heritage.
Through partnerships with state, federal, and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF and its members have helped restore wild turkey populations across the country, raised and spent more than $306 million, and conserved nearly 14 million acres of habitat for all types of wildlife.