The Outdoor News exit interview: Allen Garber

Field Editor

Editor’s note: At noon on Jan. 6, DNR Commissioner Allen Garber
ends his four-year term as DNR commissioner. Shawn Perich recently
interviewed the commissioner about his administration’s issues and
accomplishments.

ON: You were involved in negotiations with the Ojibwe regarding
fisheries management at Mille Lacs. How did the new agreement come
about?

Garber: It happened in stages. It happened first by meeting with
the Mille Lacs advisory committee and the rest of the public that
came to those meetings. It gave both sides a much clearer idea of
what we knew and didn’t know, and what our objectives were. For me,
it was a great education. I listened to the people and I really
learned a lot about what they thought we were doing.

Basically, the problem was they thought we weren’t representing
them. They thought we were just rolling over to every request or
demand by the Band. They didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in
our biologists. That made us negotiate differently with the
bands.

We were lucky that Curt Kalk was the commissioner. He and I
struck it off partly because he’s a reasonable fella and partly
because he’s a Marine.

When we went to the negotiations with the bands, we had good
talks and stood up for what our biologists believed. I encouraged
them to speak. They were shy about speaking, I don’t know why, but
they came around and started to speak. They obviously know what
they’re doing and talking about. Frankly, we were not weak in the
negotiations. We didn’t expect the bands to give in, but we didn’t
give in either.

Let me back up a bit. After we talked to the people, I told Ron
Payer that we can’t keep going on like this in a circle that takes
us down into a deep hole. We’ve got to figure out some different
way to manage the lake and deal with the bands. The more
restrictive you get, the more hooking mortality there is, and the
less fish people can keep. Anglers were frustrated, because we keep
restricting the limit to compensate for hooking mortality. What we
were headed for was a catch-and-release lake. That was my view.

So I told Ron, you’ve got to think of something else. There’s
got to be a better way to do this. Joe Fellegy had a lot to do with
this, too, because he said to me and he’s right “Why aren’t you
managing this lake as a walleye fishery? Why are you managing it as
a treaty lake? Why aren’t you managing for the health of the
fishery?”

So Ron said, “I’ll do it,” and he came up with this plan. We
looked at it and it was reasonable. It’s pretty much what came out
of the negotiations, this protected slot of 17 to 28 inches with
one over 28 allowed and a four-fish limit.

We kept talking to the people. We had meetings with the Mille
Lacs advisory committee. We didn’t want them to think there were
secrets, because this is not the CIA or the FBI, this is fishing. I
think they accepted us as their representatives and
spokespersons.

We don’t represent the Indians. We’re not supposed to. We’re
supposed to represent them (state citizens) and we have the fishery
as our over-arching concern.

So it worked. In the end we got this agreement. I think it’s an
honorable agreement and it should keep us out of court for five
years, at least. If we keep doing business this way with our own
constituents, we should have turned the corner on fighting,
arguing, and accusing. This was a good accomplishment.

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