Natural resources flying on display
Members, families and friends of the St. Cloud Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol got a close-up view of natural resources flying when a helicopter and aircrew from the DNR visited Aug. 20.
Conservation Officer/Pilot Tom Pfingsten, among the DNR Division of Enforcement’s seven pilots, said DNR’s fixed and rotary wing aircraft provide cost-effective platforms to gather information that no other means can provide. DNR airframes fly natural resources enforcement, research and resource management missions. Its hangars include four Cessna 185s, two American Champion Scouts, an Enstrom 480B helicopter and two Bell OH-58 helicopters.
Pfingsten, whose interest in flying began while growing up near the Crystal Airport and serving in the Marine Corps, has spent the past 26 years as a law enforcement officer, including the last nine with the DNR.
Pfingsten earned his private pilot’s license 20 years ago and joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) at that time to get more flying time.
“I like to say that the ink on my private pilot’s license wasn’t even dry when I joined the Crow Wing Squadron in Brainerd. Thanks to CAP I was able to earn my pilot instrument and commercial ratings,” said Pfingsten, who later learned to fly helicopters.
Many DNR missions require that pilots fly at very low altitudes, often well below 500 feet, at slow airspeeds. The pilot must be able to gather and record information, such as the number and species of waterfowl on a body of water. While flying this low, the pilot must also avoid obstructions, other aircraft and often communicate by radio with personnel on the ground or air traffic control.
The assistance of DNR Enforcement aircraft is important to Conservation Officer (CO) Tim Collette of Pequot Lakes, whose 650-square-mile field station includes Crow Wing County. Conservation officers and CO/pilots are fully qualified and licensed Minnesota law enforcement officers.
“The CO/pilot provides an aerial platform to detect violations and activity for the field conservation officer and directs the officer to these areas by radio,” said Collette, who is trained to operate the helicopter’s FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Imaging) system. The thermal imaging system is used by the military and law enforcement for surveillance, monitoring, tracking and search and rescue missions.
Most flying done by conservation officer/pilots is resource management “survey and census” missions, locating and counting wildlife from the air, or locating radio-collared wildlife using aerial telemetry. CO/pilots also perform search and rescue missions. Enforcing natural resources laws is also important.
“Locating illegal fishing, hunting or other regulated recreational activity from the air would be an example of much of a CO/pilot’s daytime flying while night flying detects poachers using spotlights to take game,” Pfingsten said.
Minnesota’s nearly 150 field officers utilize aerial photography to document violations or provide an officer with access information to a given location.