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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Anderson: While DNR Fish and Wildlife Division reorganizes, jobs go wanting, outposts go dark

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Place a call to the Office of Natural Resources Management in Tower, in northeastern Minnesota about 20 miles southeast of Ely.

Ask about the person responsible for the wildlife.

You’ll likely get a recording advising you to leave a message, with a possible response from a director of wildlife in Cook’s office in DNR, 25 miles west of the tower.

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Or call the DNR office in International Falls and ask to speak to a wildlife manager. You’ll likely receive a voicemail there, too, because DNR Wildlife employees are no longer based in International Falls.

Instead, deer, bear, wolf and other wildlife management issues are now being handled along stretches of Ontario’s border from the DNR’s Grand Rapids office, 120 miles south of International Falls.

Similar mergers of the DNR Wildlife Service can be found throughout Minnesota.

The changes come after a reorganization of the wildlife division that began about three years ago by DNR managers whose goal was to align the division’s staff, fleet and other expenses with available funds.

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The DNR Wildlife and Fisheries divisions are paid for largely by the Game and Fish Fund, which is supported primarily by hunting and fishing licensing sales.

“In 2017 and 2018, the Wildlife Division had budget issues and we needed to put in place a staffing plan in line with our funding, and implement the plan through attrition,” said Dave Olfelt, director of DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division. .

“Eventually, we agreed on staff for the Wildlife Department and then worked out how to distribute the staff our budget supports. Changes were made across the state. In the Northeast, for example, among other changes, we consolidated Wildlife Falls International. With the Grand Rapids District Office.”

Likewise, Olfelt said, the area wildlife manager who works in Bemidji has been moved to the DNR Park Rapids office, 50 miles to the south. Now three wildlife employees are assigned to the Bemidji and Park Rapids work areas (excluding technicians and seasonal assistance), instead of the previous four.

• • •

More regulatory changes to the DNR may be made in the coming weeks, each of which, ultimately, could affect the way fish and wildlife are managed in the state — and the effectiveness of serving the interests of fishermen, fishermen, and other Minnesota residents.

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On Thursday and Friday, DNR directors, about 20 in total, met via videoconference in an effort to finalize potential changes to the Fish and Wildlife Department (including Fisheries and Wildlife). Sections Area; part).

The goal this time, Olfelt said, is not so much to save a lot of costs, so much as to improve service delivery.

“Before Fish and Wildlife Director Jim Leach retired in 2019 and got the job, he started a strategic planning process, one of the points of which was to look at our organizational structure,” Olfelt said. We started working on reorganization. In the fall of 2019. Then COVID hit and was on the back torch. We now expect that to be done by spring.”

The process must be completed because at least eight key positions in the Department of Fish and Wildlife are open pending final hiring decisions. Other DNR job vacancies are also open due to the state government’s hiring freeze that was lifted last summer.

To support the reorganization process, a consultant collected information and opinions from both inside and outside DNR. One of the hot ideas discussed last week was whether the posts of Regional Fisheries Manager and Regional Wildlife Manager should be merged into one in the four regions of the DNR (Grand Rapids, Bemidji, St Paul and New Ulm).

Some at DNR say the idea should be a no-go, because expertise in both areas is rarely possessed by a single individual. Wolves, for example, differ from walleye in every possible way, and to expect a person to have enough experience to make important decisions about each of them is unrealistic.

The counterargument, Olfelt said, is, “How much expertise do you need on a subject in running an organization? At some point as you progress, it becomes more about people and systems and less about biology.”

Also last week was a discussion with the department’s fisheries and wildlife research team, which is widely regarded as among the best in the country.

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“Our review has reinforced the importance of science-driven decision making and we want to ensure that research remains a prominent part of the organization,” Olfelt said.

Also on the table was whether the game-changing DNR should return to the Fish and Wildlife Department of the DNR Department of Environmental and Water Resources, where it currently is.

Habitat that supports non-game in most cases also supports game, one argument goes, better coordination can be achieved if the two are in the same section. Opponents of the idea object that employees outside the game interact with the park, trail and forest departments as well, and that there is no compelling reason to make the change.

The DNR Fish and Wildlife Department has been reorganized before.

In the late 1990s, Fish and Wildlife under the direction of DNR Commissioner Allen Garber was divided into two parts. In 2004, they were again joined under Commissioner Jane Miriam.

From all of this, the central question we hope to answer is, ‘Does our organizational structure support or hinder what we need to accomplish?’ Olfelt said. “”

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