UMN Crookston alum patrols Alaskan wilderness as wildlife trooper
CROOKSTON, Minn. — Untamed wilderness. Imagine soaring through the skies and patrolling the roads amidst the beautiful diverse mix of scenery, tundra and grand mountain peaks.
This is what University of Minnesota Crookston alumnus Brian Lemay experiences daily. Lemay is a wildlife trooper for the Alaska State Troopers.
Lemay’s days consist of enforcing the fish and game statutes and regulations for a remote region in Alaska. He is stationed in Coldfoot, Alaska, just miles away from gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
He is the lone wildlife trooper for an area approximately the size of Montana.
“My patrols day to day are dependent on weather and on what season it is,” Lemay said. “Right now it is trapping season, so most of my patrols are being done by aircraft identifying trap lines or a snow machine running the trap line. I work a little bit on the highway contacting trappers, or if there are any hunters up here for the open hunting seasons. I am responsible for responding to search and rescues in my patrol area and the sole trooper north of the Yukon on the Dalton Highway. Any incidents I typically respond to as well, so that usually consists of crashes or commercial vehicle accidents.”
Lemay was first exposed to the opportunity during his time at UMN Crookston. As a student in aviation, one of his instructors who had been a fish and wildlife pilot in Alaska brought in a speaker who used to be a fish and wildlife pilot, but now works for the Department of the Interior. It was through this connection Lemay was first introduced to the idea of being a wildlife trooper in Alaska.
“Our instructor brought in his friend to talk to us about flying in Alaska and flying for the federal government in a natural resources or law enforcement role,” Lemay said. “ I kept it in the back of my head and ended up reaching out to him late in my junior year. It turned out he had a brother who is a wildlife trooper up here and put me in touch with him. I was able to talk to him about what he does on a day-to-day basis and what it is like to be a trooper. That helped me decide to apply to the troopers and I ended up getting hired.”
One of Lemay’s favorite things about his job is the independence of his agency. He loves the flexibility of his day-to-day work.
“As a trooper in our agency, we collaborate very independently,” Lemay said. “We don’t have supervisors standing next to us for everything we do. My supervisor is in Fairbanks. Most of my days, I am patrolling alone and I make my own patrol schedules. I am able to do what is needed. It is not a set hard line where you need to work in a particular area today. If I have something going on in the north slope area of my patrol area, we have a cabin up there I can head to. I like the flexibility of it.”
He also enjoys how every day is different in his line of work. “Our agency is a full service law and enforcement agency,” Lemay stated. “For students who want to work in law enforcement, it is an excellent agency to work for, and you can work everything from patrol to investigations to drug units. State troopers and wildlife troopers are all in the same department, so there is the opportunity, if it arises, a person may be able to transfer. Whereas a lot of other state agencies are very difficult to get hired by. I think they just have a ton of applicants for very few positions, and we are basically hiring year-round and we are currently hiring for our fall academy.”
Lemay’s education at UMN Crookston helped to set him up for success as a wildlife trooper in Alaska. A major factor was the criminal justice program at the university and the training he received as an undergraduate.
“My education at UMN Crookston really helped me when I was at the academy in Alaska,” Lemay remarked. “Matt Loeslie’s classes are awesome, and they covered all of the same material our academy covers over 16 weeks. It was a lot higher-paced learning. Having already had the knowledge helped me to excel and be the valedictorian of my academy class. Really, the only difference was the Alaska-specific laws and statues. Our constitution in Alaska has some minor differences to Minnesota’s.”
A major aid to the criminal justice program is the type of people brought in as instructors. At UMN Crookston, it is a point of pride that the people teaching the subject matter in criminal justice have hands-on experience in the field they are instructing. Lemay sees this, and the fact that people with experience in smaller communities were brought in, as key factors in the education he received.
“Especially for what I do, it helped a lot that Matt (Loeslie) brought in professors and instructors who are working in small communities,” Lemay said. “The vast majority of what I do is work in small villages and small communities. The largest town in my area is an industrial town of 2,000 people. They are primarily workers who change out every two or three weeks. So, Matt bringing in instructors and teachers who have the experience and bring it to students is excellent. Working in a big city versus a small community, there is a different style and different dynamic with how things happen in law enforcement.”
Lemay also holds in high regard the natural resources program and how it worked to prepare him for the animals he encounters in his work as a wildlife trooper.
“I learned a lot of hands-on, practical things during my natural resources classes,” Lemay stated. “Even though they are the same animals, wildlife and waterfowl up here, having had the experience of learning and identifying them in class, I already knew how to identify all of the wildlife and waterfowl up here.”
Lemay earned his bachelor of science degree in natural resources, law enforcement and aviation at UMN Crookston. While the aviation program has recently ended, it was a major factor in his education helping him in obtaining the role he has today.
“My aviation training I received in Crookston was huge for me,” Lemay said. “I know you don’t have the program anymore, but that was immensely helpful getting hired and getting to where I am now. I am a department pilot and that is how I ended up getting stationed in Coldfoot with the wildlife troopers. The Alaska State Troopers has the largest aircraft fleet and it provided me the best opportunity to be a pilot, as well as a law enforcement officer.”
Lemay has thoroughly enjoyed the experience he has had as a wildlife trooper in Alaska. Where else can you live and find a wolf in your backyard and then go to work and watch thousands of caribou grazing through the snow? He loves the chance to see a beautiful landscape that not everyone gets to see on a day-to-day basis.
“It is just a different experience,” Lemay remarked. “Alaska is different from any other state in the country. It is kind of hard to quantify.”
You know a place and a job is truly special when it leaves you virtually speechless like it does for Lemay. He has taken advantage of a unique opportunity to pursue a career he loves, while entrenched in the wild outdoors of Alaska.