Felicia Nigga carries on a family tradition of fish and wildlife enforcement as the new DNR Conservation Officer – Grand Forks Herald

BEMIDJI–I’ve heard stories from her father and grandfather–of late-night patrols, of days spent in the nice and unpleasant outdoors checking hunters and fishermen, and the misadventures and misadventures that come with a career in No two are alike.

For Felicia Nigga, that was enough to steer her toward a career in fish and wildlife.

“It’s always changing,” she said. “There is no such thing as a routine day.”

A 2013 graduate of Stephen Argyle High School (Minnesota) and a 2017 United Nations University graduate, Felicia Znagda spent five years with the East Grand Forks Police Department before being accepted into the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Conservation Officer Academy. The 16-week program trains candidates for positions in natural resource enforcement.

After graduating from the academy on September 13th, she became the third generation in her family who is working in the field of natural resource application.

You might say like father, like daughter. And like Grandfather before her.

“I wanted to start in the police department, but I knew I wanted to get into the wild,” she said.

Felicia’s father, Captain Pat Znagda of East Grand Forks, who will retire from DNR on October 4 after 17 years with the agency and nearly 36 years in the business, pinned the badge to his daughter during a graduation ceremony at Military Camp Ripley. Near Little Falls, Minnesota.

He also pinned a badge on his son, Taylor, who graduated in October 2021 from the Minnesota State Patrol Academy and is now a state soldier in Hibbing, Minnesota. The chance to pin badges on both kids last year was a career highlight, says Pat, a native of Warren, Minnesota, and a 1987 United Nations University graduate who spent 16-and-a-half years with the Minnesota State League before joining the DNR in October 2005.

Were it not for these opportunities, Zanajda says he might have retired two years ago. “I’m proud of both of them,” he said of Taylor and Felicia. “They work with prominent law enforcement agencies, and they both carry a family tradition.”

Pat Zanadeh began his career at the DNR as a Conservation Officer in Karlstad, Minnesota, before being promoted to lieutenant and becoming District 1 Law Enforcement Superintendent in October 2007. He became a captain and was Director of Law Enforcement for the Northwest District from January 2020 to July 2021, as time in which he held his last position as Program Manager for DNR Enforcement.

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Ted Negrode was a game ranger and conservation officer in Warren, Minnesota, from 1959 until his retirement in 1989. His son Pat and granddaughter Felicia followed in his footsteps to become conservation officers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Contribute / Bat Zanajda

Felicia’s grandfather, Ted Zenajda, began his career in 1949 as a “sanctuary ranger” at Camp Norris, today known as the headquarters of the Red Lake Wildlife Management District. Ted Negro served as a game ranger and conservation officer at Warren from 1959 until his retirement in 1989.

He died in December 2000 at the age of 76.

“I was very young when he passed away – I was five or six – but I still remember sitting on the deck at his house and listening to him and my father talking,” Felicia said during a recent interview in DNR’s Northwest Territory. Headquarters in Bemidji. “Hearing my dad and all the stories he was able to tell us is what really attracted me.”

Like his daughter, Pat Zenajda says his interest in fish and wildlife enforcement came from his days on patrol with his father, something that would not be allowed for conservation officers today.

The DNR changed the enforcement officers’ nickname from “Game Watcher” to “Conservation Officer” in the late 1960s to better reflect the nature of the job.

“I can remember many times as a little kid, getting up in the middle of the night—three o’clock in the morning—I hear people talking, and I would go out into the kitchen,” he said. “I was sitting on the floor and there were three or four game guards around the table, and they were just coming in from night work, and I was sitting there listening to the stories and maybe sleeping on the floor.”

Felicia’s graduation from the Academy of Conservation Officials came with an emotional surprise. In a departure from standard protocol, she now wears a number 86 insignia, the same insignia her grandfather wore when he was a DNR preservation officer.

Originally, says Felicia, I thought she would receive the 671th badge.

“On graduation day, when they gave me a 671 badge, my father pulled out my grandfather’s badge from the 1960s and then nailed the number 86 badge on me,” said Felicia. “So, I think I’m the first person ever who can reuse the badge number.”

Colonel Rodman Smith, DNR’s director of enforcement, says Pat Zanajda, who gave the approval to reuse the badge.

“It was all for her,” Zanajida said. “In the late 1960s, when they moved from game keepers to conservation officials, they issued badge numbers in order of seniority, and my father was the 86th badge — the only one who ever wore that badge.

“I know he would be very proud.”

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Capt. Pat Zanadeh of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement pins the same badge that his father, Ted Zanadeh, wore on his daughter, Felicia Zanadeh, on Tuesday, September 13, 2022, as she graduated from the DNR Conservation Academy at Camp Ripley near From Little Falls, Minnesota.

Contributed by / Lisa Duggan, MN DNR

Felicia is now spending four months in field training with DNR Conservation Officer Jordan Anderson in Wadena, Minnesota, and will be based in Osakis, Minn., starting in January.

“Ideally, I kind of wanted to get anywhere like Alexandria or the Detroit lakes, so Osakis was perfect,” she said.

Pat Zanajda says there have been many changes in the duties of the conservation officer job even since he joined DNR in 2005; Technology is a big thing.

“Even when I started, we had tickets to write – now it’s all computerized,” he said. “Omar (Felicia) knows nothing different, but for me, it was a huge adjustment.”

Compared to his father’s days observing fish and wildlife, the changes are even greater, he says.

“It goes back to the 1970s, even when they were doing boat and water operations, they weren’t allowed to carry a gun,” Pat Zanajda said. “It evolved into we’re fully armed all the time.”

Gone are the days of blowing up beaver dams and capturing road deer.

“We got away from some of that,” he said. “From some of this fish and wildlife (focus) to more law enforcement and education — education is a big part of what we do as well.”

Pat Zanajda says the conservation force today is more diverse, both in terms of female officers and minorities.

“I don’t know the proportion,” he said, “but we have a large amount.” “Maybe we can still do a better job of attracting more females and attracting more minorities, but we are striving to make it happen. I think we are doing a better job.”

Of the 18 recent graduates of the academy, Felicia was one of seven who came from traditional law enforcement backgrounds. The other 11 were “preparatory” who came to DNR through the agency’s Conservation Officer Preparation Program for prospective officers with a college degree of at least two years.

She says the differences between the day and her grandfather’s day are “like night and day.”

However, the goal remains the same: to protect the state’s fish and wildlife.

“It never fails,” said Felicia. “When I get up to Warren, where my grandfather kind of works, I’m going to go to a gas station, and somebody will come up to me, and they’ll be like, ‘Was your grandfather Ted? And I’m like, ‘Yeah’ – I have no idea how they knew that – and then they’d tell me a story about a connection they had with him 50 years ago.

“I hope to make the same impact that I believe my grandfather and father made in this field.”

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DNR Conservation Officer Felicia Znagda (from left), Minnesota State Patrol’s Taylor Znagda and their father, Capt. Pat Znagda of Minnesota DNR Enforcement, stand next to their vehicles Tuesday, September 13, 2022, at Felicia’s graduation from DNR Conservation Officer Academy at Camp Ripley near From Little Falls.

Contribute / Bat Zanajda

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