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Scott Rall: A great day afield

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Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

It is not just anyone who gets the call that I received last week. It was from Tom Landwehr, who is the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources for the State of Minnesota.

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He was going to be in the area doing a little pheasant hunting and was wondering if we could get together. He was going to be joined by his co-worker and good friend Dave Shad, who is the second in command as the deputy commissioner.

I was excited about the possibility of spending the day with these two gentlemen and we set up a time. Landwehr ended up with a conflict on Friday afternoon, so I hunted with Shad and another friend, Joe Pavelko, who works for Pheasants Forever, on Friday afternoon and we were joined by Tom and his 15-year-old son Hunter on Saturday morning.

The hunting on Friday was done at a waterfowl production area on the Minnesota/Iowa border just north of Lake Park, Iowa. The hunting was tough and we walked a long distance. Right before the end of the day we saw five roosters bust wild, and one made the mistake of banking in the wind back past us, and Joe bagged it. When you’re hunting you’re not doing much talking, so it was at supper later that evening that I was able to ask Dave a few questions.

It was along these lines: What is a day in the life of a deputy commissioner like?

He indicated to me that he is kind of like the CEO of the department. He concerns himself with things like budgets, personnel and other day-to-day large-scale operational activities.

On the other hand, Tom, the commissioner, deals primarily with policy. He’s the right-hand man of the governor and brings forth the initiatives of his administration. Things like DNR-Indian tribal issues, wolf hunting, aquatic invasive species and other items that deal with the overall direction of the department fill his day. He provides the guidance and management needed to keep the ship in the right direction.

We had a few opportunities to visit about different resource issues and I shared my opinions with these two very smart guys. I knew Tom before he was the commissioner and we had hunted together a few times. At that time he was the lead person for The Nature Conservancy in the Upper Midwest and had testified at our LSOHC meetings in years past. I have a picture on my wall of fame in the garage of the two of us with a few roosters.

The thing I appreciate about these two gentlemen is that even though they hold the highest ranking positions in the state when it come to managing our natural resources, they are just normal guys who enjoy a day in the field hoping for the chance to bag a rooster or two.

Tom’s son Hunter was just like my boy when he bagged his first limit of roosters in December. He had limited before but never in December when the limit is three per day.

I watched Tom as he tutored his son just like I did mine when he was that age, and we all shared the excitement equally at the end of the day with a few pictures and big grins all around. Hunter said he had the best December pheasant hunt ever with his dad and me and that made me feel pretty darn good, too.

I have a great amount of respect for the kind of people who obviously hold pretty high positions in life but never act arrogant or make you feel less or small.

I have a saying that if you make a decision, any decision that affects other people regardless of the decision at least 3 percent to 5 percent of the people will be mad at you for that decision. If you are involved in making 20 decisions they you will have successfully made everybody mad at you at least one or more times.

This is fact in the land of high-level game management.

Decisions are made every day, and in the end you think that nobody likes the outcome. The commissioner gets named personally in numerous lawsuits in some years and I guess this is just part of the job.

I can tell you I have followed the issues and different management styles of the past 20 years of commissioners and the job being done today will by no means satisfy everyone (satisfying everyone is totally impossible). But I, for one, think the job is getting done pretty darn well.

I took the opportunity to share my concerns about the of grazing of public lands for little reimbursement to the taxpayers of Minnesota and how this effort affects the rank-and-file hunters in the state.

There is zero percent chance that we, (the commissioner and I) will agree on everything every time, but I understand that this is the way of life when there is more than one person in the room at the time.

I was appreciative of the opportunity to interact with these guys. First and foremost, they care about our resources and are navigating the waters of politics, science, special interests and anti-hunters and finding a pretty satisfactory balance. The one part of being the DNR commissioner that the rank-and-file outdoorsman has no clue about is that the DNR is to a great degree led by the Legislature and is charged with delivering the wants and needs of this body. They are not free to do as they please even if their way might be the better way to go in the long run.

What this means is that this job requires a balancing act that few find easy to do. License buyers are on one side and directives from above are on the other, and walking the middle is a hard job. I have come to a much better understanding of the underlying issues (invisible to the rank and file hunter) when it comes to game and fish management and this has given me a much greater respect for those who have stepped up to the plate to take on this challenge.

Chasing roosters this season has been more difficult than in the past with bird numbers way down and grass disappearing faster than your paycheck, but regardless of whether I am alone in the grass or sharing it with two passionate high-ranking DNR personnel I have come to understand that it takes the hard work and effort of all parties involved to do the best job possible and get the best possible outcome.

As with any opinion there will always be a differing one but I, for one, am satisfied that the folks at the helm today are doing what it takes to keep Minnesota resources the best they can be.

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