Wait and see’ prolongs DNR Wildlife vacancies

Turkey specialist now oversees Winona

By Tim Spielman

Associate Editor

Winona, Minn. During these times of state budget uncertainty,
state DNR officials say they want to see what money is available
before permanently filling some vacancies in state offices.

For example, Jon Cole is currently the acting assistant manager
at the Rochester DNR office (formerly a regional outlet before the
number of regional offices was cut from six to four). The same
situation is true in Brainerd, also a former regional post.

“Because of budget uncertainty, we’re doing things on a
temporary basis,” Wildlife Director Tim Bremicker said this
week.

A looming state budget deficit of an estimated $3 billion has
prompted state finance officials to recommend state agencies
consider what they’d do if required to cut 10 percent from their
budgets. Some officials say DNR budget cuts could be greater.
Estimates have been as high as a $47 million reduction in DNR
expenses.

Past reshuffling has landed DNR turkey specialist Gary Nelson in
Winona for a portion of his duties. Once the full-time turkey
specialist in the state, Nelson’s title now includes area wildlife
manager in Winona. That void was created when former manager Nick
Gulden retired in January.

Nelson says he won’t be able to spend as much time on “turkey
work” as he once did, but that some of that work is winding down.
He’s still in charge of the turkey “trap-and-transplant” program
that’s been ongoing for several years and has deposited birds to
several areas of the state with suitable habitat.

While the time spent by the state’s turkey specialist on
turkey-specific matters has decreased, funding from the state’s
turkey stamp remains intact, according to officials. Funding from
the $5 stamp equates to nearly $100,000 annually, Bremicker said.
The money is used for habitat development, food plots, turkey
population management, surveys, research, and the
trap-and-transplant program. It doesn’t fund full-time positions,
like that of Nelson.

Bremicker said expenditures from the turkey stamp will be about
$116,000 this year, and $87,000 next year. A healthy balance in the
fund will allow for additional funding during fiscal 2004-05, he
added.

Nelson expects the trap-and-transplant program, still a
“full-scale” effort, to continue to consume its portion of the
funds. The program is extremely weather-dependent, Nelson said.

“The goal is for us to move as many birds as we possibly can,”
he said. “But it depends on how many birds are in an area (to
trap). If we got 250 birds it would be great.”

Most sites where birds will be relocated are along the fringes
of suitable turkey habitat, from Pine County in east-central
Minnesota toward St. Cloud. Nelson said six state officials are
involved in the trap-and-transport program, along with several
volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation.

“They’re very enthusiastic about helping us out,” he said.

Fall turkey hunt results not yet available

Nelson said the department hadn’t yet compiled results from this
fall’s turkey hunt.

The seasons occurred Oct. 16-20 and Oct. 23-27, but the level of
involvement by DNR personnel in testing deer for chronic wasting
disease has delayed summarizing the results.

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