Potter’s Pond at Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge
Potter’s Pond at Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge

Patrol Captain Kelly Knutson: Serving and Protecting Our Natural Resources

This week we are highlighting some of our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff in honor of Public Service Recognition Week (May 2–8, 2021). Learn about these public servants and how their hard work and dedication benefit wildlife conservation and enhance our public lands. #GovPossible #WeAreFWS #iServeBecause

Patrol captain Kelly Knutson with his children at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.
Patrol captain Kelly Knutson with his children at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

Kelly Knutson’s entire public service career has been about giving a voice to wildlife and wild places. It came naturally for the Spokane native who fondly remembers childhood hunting trips to the remote parts of northeast Washington.

“It’s about protecting things that don’t have a voice — the fish, the wildlife and the even the resource itself. It can’t speak for itself and it can’t protect itself,” said the 18-year veteran refuge patrol captain who works out of Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.

After graduating from Washington State University, Kelly worked as a land manager with Washington Department of Natural Resources. Then the desire to roam hit, and Kelly spent time across the country as a Chief Conservation Officer with the Department of Defense, and then as a Law Enforcement Park Ranger with the National Park Service.

Kelly Knutson working at Little Pend Oreille NWR.
Kelly Knutson working at Little Pend Oreille NWR.

Though he left the Evergreen State, it never left his memory. Finally, almost 18-years ago he came home to protect the resources that initially got him hooked on the outdoors.

“I’ve hunted up here (in northeast Washington) since I was a kid. When I was done with my wanderlust I wanted to come home and stay here,” Kelly said. “I love where I live and work. Little Pend Oreille Refuge is the jewel of the region, and I’ve always enjoyed it here.”

He has been promoted from a refuge law enforcement patrol officer to zone officer and now a refuge patrol captain, each coming with additional roles and responsibilities.

“As patrol captain, it has increased my supervisory responsibilities. But that’s a good thing in my mind. We are steadily getting better at protecting our resources every year, and I like being a part of that,” Kelly said. “I think I have made a significant impact on how people can enjoy the refuge more. There are some people out there who are not looking out for the wildlife and the natural resources. I got into law enforcement to protect and appreciate our natural resources, so that other people can enjoy them as well.”

Kelly Knutson on his Triumph motorcycle.
Kelly Knutson on his Triumph motorcycle.

The side benefit for Kelly is that being on the refuge — whether walking a trail or driving the roads — is that he gets to see the best that Mother Nature has to offer. There’s no substitute for time in the field for the life-long outdoor enthusiast.

“Just last week I saw a weird phenomenon,” Kelly said. “Some spiders had put out a lot of webs in this one area, and they all gleamed in the sun. I could see hundreds … maybe thousands of the webs, and it wasn’t something you’d normally see. It was an incredible experience, and I get to have a lot of those whether it’s meeting people or seeing wildlife or the landscapes. When you’re out there in it, you get to see things a lot of people don’t from an office. The refuge … it’s a special place.”

Article by Brent Lawrence, a public affairs officer in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Columbia Pacific Northwest Region.

Bayley Lake at Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge
Bayley Lake at Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge

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USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest Region

USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest Region

Conservation stories from one of the world’s most ecologically diverse regions.