Top post is an important oneWORTHINGTON — So what does the commissioner of the DNR actually do? Most Minnesota residents would have a hard time answering this question.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — So what does the commissioner of the DNR actually do? Most Minnesota residents would have a hard time answering this question.
If you had asked me three years ago, I would have had less than a complete answer. After a few years serving on the Lessard/Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and having had much more interaction with this office, I can say I have a better idea. Still, by no means I am still no expert on this office’s operation.
The DNR commissioner is appointed by the Governor. They normally last in their position as long as the governor stays in office. The office has been occupied by just about every different kind of personality you can think of, depending on what sort of issues the governor deems the most important at the time. An example might be that the governor thinks the department needs a more business-like leader and might appoint someone with an extensive business background but with less experience in the way of conservation, wildlife science or biology.
I have had the opportunity to get to know several commissioners over the past 10 years. I spent a week in a boat in Canada with past commissioner Gene Merriam. The fact of the matter is he was not actually the commissioner at the time, but was in line for the job and received it formally a few weeks later. I hunted for a few days with out-going commissioner Mark Holstein just after he had been appointed to the post a few years back.
The DNR commissioner has a very difficult job balancing the politics inherent in the job with the desires of the everyday hunter and fisherman who know very little of the politics, and cares even less about its impact on the department operation. In its simplest form, the sportsman/resident is the customer, the Commissioner is the sales manager and the Minnesota legislature is the boss. It has to be a difficult balancing act, to say the least.
There is one really great benefit of talking directly with the commissioner. When you ask a question you get an answer. There is no response like “I will have to go check with the higher ups.” In resource management in Minnesota, there is no higher up than the commissioner. Of the commissioners I have had the opportunity to interact with in the past, I consider all high-quality individuals have the resources of Minnesota at the heart of their commitment to get the job done.
I waited patiently to see who Mark Dayton was going to tap for this top spot ever since he was declared the new governor of Minnesota. As one who follows outdoor issues with great interest, I knew this appointment was one of the most critical appointments the governor would make when it comes to influencing the future direction of resource management in Minnesota. There were several names being floated around by the media, and one of them was Tom Landwehr. I have met Tom and hunted pheasants with him when he was the region director of the Nature Conservancy.
At that time, I knew little of Tom and about the same of the Nature Conservancy. Tom was the voice of the Nature Conservancy when it came to requesting funds from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to do conservation work in Minnesota. We spoke many times, and one of the things I came to like most about Tom was his direct and straight forward manner when responding to tough questions. There is no beating around the bush. A response like, “This is my position on issue A and these are the reasons I take this position,” is just the kind of answer I like. Now, I may or may not agree with that particular position, but a straight forward and open dialog is the starting point of any successful outcome.
One other trait in our new Commissioner that I like is that, from my experience, he does not make up his mind on an issue before the discussion even starts. Having an open mind and actually listening to the facts of the matter from all points of view would seem to be the makings of a good DNR commissioner.
Gov. Mark Dayton was on record even before he announced who he would name to the top spot that the job would go to a knowledgeable resource profession manager first and other desirable traits would follow. I fully support this thinking. I believe it is possible to find an individual with hunting and fishing in their veins who is still more than capable of managing a department as large as this one.
I was pleased and happy to hear Tom had been appointed, but I was not truly surprised. I have had the opportunity to meet Mark Dayton at different shooting and fundraising events prior to his running for office, and visited with him one on one. Dayton comes across as a sportsman who happens to be a politician — and not a politician who puts on a show as being a hunter or fisherman to attract the hunting and fishing vote. Dayton has done a great service to all Minnesotans with the appointment of Tom Landwehr as the new commissioner. This statement is made with all due respect to the other candidates. Minnesota has a lot of talent. It is a matter of getting the right talent in the right place at the right time.
Minnesota has some of the most spectacular natural resources in the country, and with the passage of dedicated funding and the creation of the outdoor heritage fund, we have the dedicated source of funding these resources have needed and been lacking for many years.
When you add up the big three — Dayton’s past and current support of the dedicated funding amendment, his support of the Lessard/Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to guide the legislature on how those funds are to spent and appointing Tom Landwehr to lead the agency — I believe we have the makings for a very successful and rewarding future regarding Minnesota’s natural resources.
I look forward to watching it unfold.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe’s outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.