Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

‘Legendary’ conservation officer dies

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

Duluth, Minn. — When Don Polovina was a game warden at the
Floodwood station in the 1960s, he arrested a would-be poacher who
was shining deer, and brought him before the justice of the
peace.

The man, down on his luck, needed the meat to feed his family,
and couldn’t afford the $50 fine.

“Don paid the fine,” said Darrell Hanson, a former CO in Duluth
who worked alongside Polovina from 1980 to 1996. “He had a heart of
gold.”

Polovina, a Minnesota CO for 34 years until his retirement in
1996, died Sept. 30 at the age of 77. He worked the Floodwood
station for six years, but spent the majority of his career
patrolling the western Duluth station.

“Don was the best of the best,” said CO Dale Ebel, who now
covers Polovina’s old Duluth territory and knew him for 30 years.
“The guy was always looking out for the other man.”

Ebel was on a ride-along with Polovina in the mid-1970s when the
pair came upon a man that had taken a deer illegally to feed his
family.

“Don pretty much took that into consideration and knew it was
going for a good cause,” Ebel said. “He said, ‘well, feed your
family, that comes first.’” Though the deer population at the time
was lower than today, Polovina let the man keep the meat and didn’t
take him to court, Ebel said.

That family orientation carried over into Polovina’s personal
life, too.

“Everything revolved around his family until the day he died,”
Ebel said. “He’ll be remembered as someone who was a very good
person.”

Lt. Richard Hanson, District 8 supervisor, first worked with
Polovina during training 17 years ago, but really got to know him
when he started working in Duluth after Polovina retired.

“He had a gruff exterior sometimes, and he had his own way of
handling things and people,” Richard Hanson said. “There will only
ever be one Don Polovina. His heart was huge and his spirit was as
strong as any I have ever seen.”

In the 10 years Ebel has worked the Duluth area, he’s heard
“maybe one or two” negative comments about Polovina. As he checks
fish houses and hunting shacks, people often tell Ebel about how
fairly and respectfully Polovina treated them.

Polovina was tough about the standard violations, like fishing
or hunting without a license, or angling with two lines, but he
gave people a fair shake if he believed they didn’t know they were
breaking the law, Darrell Hanson said.

“He understood people quite well,” Hanson said.

Col. Mike Hamm, chief DNR Enforcement officer, noticed the same
thing. During the spring of 1977, Hamm’s first months as a CO, he
worked the smelt run in the Duluth area with Polovina.

Hamm remembers Polovina demonstrating two of the most important
parts of being a CO: an ability to interact with people, and the
desire to protect the resource.

“It was clearly obvious both those items were big on Don’s
list,” Hamm said.

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