Anderson: As DNR Reorganizes Fish and Wildlife Division, Jobs Disappear, Outposts Disappear

Call the Department of Natural Resources office in Tower, northeast Minnesota, about 20 miles southeast of Ely.

Ask about the person in charge of wildlife.

Chances are you’ll get a recording advising you to leave a message, with likely a response from a wildlife manager at DNR’s Cook office, 25 miles west of Tower.

Or call the DNR office in International Falls and ask to speak to a conservationist. You’ll probably get voicemail there too, as there are no longer any DNR wildlife personnel stationed in International Falls.

Instead, issues managing deer, bears, wolves and other wildlife along parts of the Ontario border are now being handled from the DNR office in Grand Rapids, 120 miles south of International Falls.

Similar consolidations of DNR wildlife sections can be found throughout Minnesota.

The changes follow a reorganization of the wildlife section that began about three years ago by DNR executives seeking to align the section’s staffing, fleet and other expenses with available funds.

The DNR’s Wildlife and Fisheries Departments are largely funded from the Wildlife and Fishing Fund, which is primarily supported by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.

“In 2017 and 2018, the wildlife department faced budgetary challenges and we needed to develop a staffing plan that was consistent with our funding, and execute the plan through exhaustion,” said Dave Olfelt, director of the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division. last week. †

“Eventually we agreed on a wildlife department workforce and worked to figure out how to allocate the staff supported by our budget. Changes were made across the state. In the Northeast, for example, we have the International Falls, among other things. consolidated office with the Grand Rapids area office.”

Similarly, Olfelt said, the wildlife area manager working out of Bemidji was moved to the DNR Park Rapids office, 80 miles south. Now three wildlife workers have been assigned to the Bemidji and Park Rapids work areas (excluding technicians and seasonal workers), instead of the previous four.

More organizational changes could be made to the DNR in the coming weeks, all of which could ultimately affect the way fish and wildlife are managed in the state — and the effectiveness with which the interests of hunters, fishermen and other Minnesotans are served. be served.

On Thursday and Friday, DNR executives, about 20 in all, met via videoconference in an effort to discuss potential changes to the Fish and Wildlife Division (which includes the fisheries and wildlife industry). sections Area; part).

The goal this time, Olfelt said, is not so much cost savings as better service.

“Before Jim Leach, director of the Fish and Wildlife Division retired in 2019 and I got the job, he initiated a strategic planning process, including a look at our organizational structure,” said Olfelt. fall of 2019. Then COVID hit and it was on the back burner. We now expect it to be ready in the spring.”

The process is due to be completed as at least eight key Fish and Wildlife Division management positions are kept open pending final staffing decisions. Other DNR vacancies are also open due to the state government’s staff freeze that was lifted last summer.

To support the reorganization process, an advisor has gathered information and opinions from inside and outside the DNR. A hot-button idea discussed last week was whether, in the four regions of the DNR (Grand Rapids, Bemidji, St. Paul and New Ulm), the functions of regional fisheries manager and regional wildlife managers should be merged into one.

Some in the DNR say the idea should be a non-starter, as expertise in both fields is rarely, if ever, in the hands of individual individuals. For example, wolves are different from walleye in every way, and it’s unrealistic to expect one person to have enough expertise to make important decisions about each of them.

The counter-argument, Olfelt said, is, “How high up in the management of an organization do you need expertise? At some point, as you move up, it’s more about the people and systems and less about the biology.”

Last week also discussed the division’s fisheries and wildlife research staff, widely regarded as some of the best in the country.

“The evaluation we have done has reinforced the importance of science-based decision making for us and we want to ensure that research remains a prominent part of the organization,” said Olfelt.

Also on the table was whether the DNR’s non-game program should return to the Fish and Wildlife Division of the DNR Ecological and Water Resources Division, where it currently resides.

Habitat that supports non-wild in most cases also supports wild, or so the argument goes, and better coordination could be achieved if the two were in the same division. Opponents of the idea argue that non-game personnel also interact with the Parks and Trails and Forestry divisions, and there’s no compelling reason to make the switch.

The DNR fish and game management has been reorganized before.

In the late 1990s, under DNR Commissioner Allen Garber, Fish and Wildlife were split into two divisions. In 2004, they were reunited under Commissioner Gene Merriam.

“Of all this,” said Olfelt, “the central question we hope to answer is, ‘Does our organizational structure support or get in the way of what we need to do?’ †

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