The Fish and Wildlife Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will stick to its bipartisan structure after listening to opponents who said consolidation would reduce services to hunters and fishermen.
“We have decided NOT to make dramatic changes to the organizational structures of regional, research or habitat teams,” Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Olfelt wrote in a recent memo to staff.
The decision ends more than two years of fears from active and retired resource managers who oppose the idea of unifying leadership jobs now performed in pairs.
For example, the DNR considered merging the statewide fisheries chief and statewide wildlife chief. In the four regions of the DNR (Grand Rapids, Bemidji, St. Paul and New Ulm), the role of regional fisheries manager could have been combined with the role of regional nature manager. A total of 16 positions eligible for consolidation will remain intact, including Fishery Habitat Manager, Wildlife Habitat Manager, Fisheries Research Unit Supervisor, and Wildlife Research Unit Supervisor.
Olfelt told the Star Tribune this week that the agency is moving soon to fill vacancies which were kept open pending final staff decisions.
“People didn’t see the need to restructure… but they saw we could do things better,” Olfelt said. “We should focus on planning and responsibility and less on moving the seats.”
Henry Drewes, the former fisheries regulator for the Northwestern Region of the DNR, said consolidation would have blurred the priorities now maintained by the two bars separately. He also opposed the restructuring as it would have fused the respective budgets of the sections and weakened the technical expertise inherent in the status quo.
The overall effect would have reduced the delivery of fieldwork intended to improve fishing and hunting, he said.
“Would you like a wildlife manager to make decisions about stocking walleye?” said Drewes, who retired last year.
Resource managers have traditionally taken one career path or the other, he said. Rarely, if ever, does one person have expertise in both areas.
“You’re looking for generalists more than specialists,” Drewes said. “You lose the professional expertise.”
State Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons said he is pleased with the result. “Our research units and our field operations are functioning very, very well,” he said.
Olfelt said the Fish and Wildlife Division — with 550 employees and an annual operating budget of $65 million — has benefited from the internal review and is likely to make changes to improve planning, accountability, policy development, equipment sharing and audience outreach. Feedback from conversations with people inside and outside the organization described a “silo” mentality between fish and wildlife that needs to be obliterated through better coordination and more communication, he said.
“We intend to take this opportunity to re-examine and revise the way we do our jobs… and to take more responsibility for ourselves and the people we serve,” Olfelt wrote in his memo. to the staff.
He said the division will strive to work more closely together, as it did last summer when it built a robust, 3,000-foot woven wire fence around an illegal carcass dump in a public forest in Beltrami County. the garbage built, made by a local deer farmer, created a long-term biohazard chronic wasting disease (CWD). The three-foot fence is needed to exclude wild deer from the property and reduce the risk of farm-related CWD transmission.
Another example of synergy between fishing, wildlife and outreach departments is the rapidly expanding CWD testing program hosted by the DNR’s Wildlife Health Group. The program relies on employees across the division and beyond to build, staff and educate fighters across a network of full-service, self-service tissue sampling stations. Last year, the stations were located in 29 deer permit areas, as far north as Upper Red Lake and as far south as the Iowa border.