Lately it seems the Minnesota DNR is sure receiving its fair share of bashing from its critics. Poor rules, poor management practices, a direction for the future that is not necessarily conducive to the so-called “average sportsman.” Such is the nature, I suppose, of a public agency charged with ensuring the viability of our outdoor fun.
Outsiders Looking In
Dennis Anderson took his swipe at the DNR by detailing how the chief DNR official, Gene Merriam has gone out of his way to hunt not as the common man would. Instead, his tenure at the DNR has been filled with missed opportunities to develop and further encourage our shooting sports. Read more HERE.
Just a few days earlier Ron Schara described the silliness of certain game transport laws requiring the hunter to leave certain appendages attached to the carcass for no other reason than to allow officials to verify the species or the gender. Read more HERE.
Insiders Looking Within
Perhaps what is most biting, however, is the criticism levied from within the organization. As one of his last acts before retirement, Gordy Forester, assistant regional wildlife supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently took these parting shots in an e-mail broadcast to over 300 of his colleagues. Read on, as I think the e-mail speaks largely for itself:
To: Fish, Wildlife and Ecological Services Staff
I wanted to say farewell to all of my fellow Fisheries, Wildlife and Eco personnel who have been my friends and co-workers for 30 plus years. It’s been a long time, but time catches up with all of us in the end.
When my contemporaries and I started in the early to mid-’70s we had a passion, not just for hunting and fishing but for all of the environment. We knew/know all too well the interconnectedness of the Land, Air, Water and the creatures that depend on them. We’ve tried our best over the years to manage these resources for the benefit of all the people of the state. But narrowly focused interest groups now wish to dictate all that we do. Whether it’s good science is less important than if it is good politics. I made an effort a year ago to let our Director know that the professionalism and integrity of staff were being undermined by the politicization of DNR. I was cut off and instructed to write a letter of apology, doesn’t everyone know that wildlifers just can’t compromise or work well with other groups? I don’t believe the situation has demonstratively improved since my little outburst last year.
The thing that has been most disconcerting to me is that there is nothing on paper detailing the kind of actions that St. Paul clearly expects. When a regional or area team comes up with a proposed action or position that everyone locally agrees on across discipline lines, it certainly seems that if the Commissioners office doesn’t agree then it is tabled or sent back until the answer wanted is eventually recommended. At other times field staff, in contravention of their best judgment, make a recommendation because they are told to do so, e.g. Turkey releases in Northwestern Minnesota or increasing stocking rates of Walleye. I suspect there are others.
We have been told to "don’t worry about taking notes [at meetings], we only have to document action items." To me it seems obvious that the politicians in Central Office don’t want the public to know very much of what goes on or to have their fingerprints on the decisions that are made but rather point the finger at field staff and say as did the Director that it was field staff that came up with the proposal for increasing the stocking rates for Walleye.
We all know that by its very nature DNR decisions are political but in previous administrations politics was mostly a St. Paul office exercise and field staff and biologists were free to make their opinions known at least in house. No more, it has been made abundantly clear to me that I am an executive branch employee and work for the Governor not the resource, not the sportsmen, not the people of the state. It seems pretty Kafkaesque to report to St. Paul every time you have a media contact, or get approval for the simplest news release. If you keep abreast of what is happening in other states and at the Federal level you will see that these kind of tactics are pervasive and to me very chilling. What this tells me is that my professional judgments are not trusted. I hope you all can keep making the point that we should be doing the right thing not the politically expedient. I leave you with the hope that you can all rise in the morning and live with the face that stares back at you from the bathroom mirror for the recommendation that you make.
I fear that when politics and public opinion begin to overshadow sound, proven wildlife management philosophies and decisions we should all be very concerned. Our future is in this state agency’s hands and we deserve to see some prudent redirection of priorities.
© 2005 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.