Saluting Gary Botzek, a longtime sportsmen’s connection to the Capitol

Friends Jim Sable (left) and John Nelson (right) from the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League enjoyed an evening with friends and family thanking longtime State Capitol lobbyist Gary Botzek (center) for his decades of work on behalf of outdoorsmen and natural resources.

State conservationists and leaders rendezvoused at O’Gara’s Bar & Grill in St. Paul Wednesday night to toast and roast a stalwart on Minnesota’s outdoors scene: Gary Botzek.

Executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation since 2006, Botzek stepped down from the role in late September. The 2011 Outdoor News Man of the Year, Gary has worked on every important Minnesota conservation and outdoors-related policy matter for nearly four decades. We’re all living in a better, greener Minnesota thanks to Gary.

Last month, Botzek, 67, told Outdoor News Contributing Writer Joe Albert that he’s starting a new chapter in his career.

“I’m not retiring – just slowing down a bit,” said Botzek, who co-owns management and lobbying firm Capitol Connections with his wife, Luci. He told Albert that he plans to speak and write on conservation and the environment, legislative procedure and history, and other issues for organizations, schools, and other groups. He may work some lobbying projects, too.

His friend and fellow capitol comrade in conservation, Lance Ness, likely will handle lobbying efforts for MCF going forward. Ness also is the organization’s new president. At Wednesday’s event, Ness gave a short speech recognizing Botzek’s long list of accomplishments. The two men met in 1981 and worked on the Reinvest in Minnesota Coalition during that decade and eventually launched the Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance in 1986.

“In the 1990s, Gary played a significant role in the passage of the Wetland Conservation Act in 1991 and defended it in 1995 from being gutted,” Ness said. “It is still considered one of the best conservation models in the country.”

In 1995, Botzek began to work on the RIM report that said sportsmen should be re-investing sporting taxes into natural resources. Lenny Samuelson of Minnesota DU approached Botzek and Ness and suggested using the Missouri model to dedicate state sales taxes. It took a decade with many players and partnerships, but Botzek was a key player in its eventual 2008 passage. In his interview with Albert, Botzek called it his career highlight.

Other issues included extensive work on Con-Con lands, which eventually resulted in the largest addition to the wildlife management area system ever, and ended a dispute that dated back to the 1930s.

Board of Water and Soil Resources Executive Director John Jaschke, also on hand Wednesday evening, commended Botzek for being influential and effective on a wide variety of conservation issues for decades.

“What sets him apart in my mind, besides his preparedness and his engaging personality, is that he understands there will always be another battle another day,” Jaschke said. “He showed us how to persist and pursue the things that had the biggest conservation benefit, how to discern what matters most, and how to sustain relationships despite disagreements. He has been and continues to be a valued mentor to many of us.”

Other friends and colleagues on hand included DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, Minnesota Environmental Partnership Executive Director Steve Morse, Jim Sable and John Nelson from the Minnesota Clay Target League, legislators, and representatives from Minnesota conservation nonprofits and state and federal resource agencies.

Mentor is a very good word for Gary. He’s been a friend of Outdoor News and this scribe for more than 20 years, and his persistent “we’ll get them next year” attitude and fine sense of humor has helped motivate outdoors advocates for a generation. We’ll look forward to working with him for many years to come.

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