Fourteen questions for the Commish

Field Editor

Editor’s note: Last week, Outdoor News Field Editor Shawn Perich
discussed the direction and priorities of the agency under the
Pawlenty administration with DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam.

ODN: In terms of DNR policy and funding, were you satisfied with
the outcome of the legislative session?

Merriam: I wouldn’t describe it as dissatisfied, but there were
some disappointments. The governor’s budget was a little better
than what came out of the Legislature, but it could have been
worse.

In terms of policy, the ATV legislation came out pretty well
balanced and gave us the resources and tools to meet that
challenge. And at the beginning of the session I wouldn’t have
thought a dove season was possible, but it fell just short of
passing.

ODN: Are you contemplating any changes in DNR division directors
or other key positions?

Merriam: This is something that’s still in the works. Expect to
hear something in the near future, because we’re not too far from
resolution. It’s a bit premature to talk about it at this
point.

ODN: Are you considering any changes in the DNR’s administrative
structure?

Merriam: Yes we are. We’re a little way yet from making a
decision, but it will be weeks rather than months. That’s all I
care to say at this point.

ODN: Can we expect to see any new policy initiatives?

Merriam: Yes. Once we got through the Legislative session, we
had to get the capital budget to the Department of Finance by June
16. We have about $100 million in capital budget requests,
including a lot of things Outdoor News readers have interest
in.

We’ll dive further into school trust land issues. I hope to have
the department internally deal with nonproductive school trust land
issues outside the BWCAW, such as school trust lands in state parks
and scientific and natural areas. We’ll work with our congressional
delegation in Washington to see if we can address the issue of
school trust lands in the BWCAW.

As we get ready for the Legislative session, we’ll explore other
policy initiatives. We’ll be looking at everything from sturgeon
fishing regulations to a host of other issues.

ODN: Are you planning to change or improve DNR’s public
communications?

Merriam: I hope so. We are still looking for a director of
communications, and our former director recently left the agency. I
think we have opportunities for improvement in that area. We are
probably still a few weeks away from making a hire or a
promotion.

ODN: Hunting and fishing organizations sometimes say the DNR is
out of step with these core constituencies. What do you think?

Merriam: I think that’s something we’re working hard to deal
with. Clearly, the perception has been that the agency is out of
step, for a lot of reasons. Both the governor and I want to improve
the relations with those core constituencies. I think that’s a
problem we intend to deal with.

ODN: Will budget cuts hamper the DNR’s ability to carry out its
mission?

Merriam: I don’t think so. With 65 lay-offs and other vacancies,
we are down about 100 employees, which represents about 5 percent
of the DNR. This is challenging, but the result is that it causes
us to focus on our mission, rather than on benefit of the
institution.

ODN: Will you seek a stable, long-term funding source for the
DNR?

Merriam: Yes. I was pleased that when he was asked about it at a
press conference, the governor reaffirmed his support for some type
of constitutional amendment for stable, long-term funding.

ODN: Is the DNR still involved in former Commissioner Allen
Garber’s Bear River Demonstration Forest?

Merriam: Yes we are. It’s not something I’ve had a lot of
involvement in, yet the Division of Forestry is involved. I can’t
get more specific than that.

ODN: How do you perceive your role in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s new
water initiative?

Merriam: We were very involved in developing the governor’s
principles and in work with the Pollution Control Agency. We will
continue to be involved in the Clean Water Cabinet; it will be a
focus of our time and energy over several months and beyond.

ODN: Are there other issues you’d like to discuss?

Merriam: The Governor’s Task Force on Competitiveness in the
Timber Industry will issue a report after July 21 that will launch
policy initiatives for timber harvest and reforestation
initiatives, as well as third party certification for wood
harvested on state land. I think it will dovetail nicely with our
existing forest management guidelines, because we must demonstrate
we are managing the forest in a way that is environmentally sound
and sustainable. Customers want forest products that meet third
party certification.

ODN: Will the governor’s water initiative lead to the formation
of a new water bureaucracy, perhaps consolidating water management
and administration that is divided among several state
agencies?

Merriam: Yes, I think that will come up for discussion as part
of that effort.

ODN: Anything else?

Merriam: I think the CWD issue came out pretty well in terms of
resources provided and the authority given to us. We will watch
closely and continue to have concerns about it.

ODN: Are you concerned that deer farmer Gary Tank is operating a
big game shooting preserve?

Merriam: It’s a concern that has more to do with the
introduction of farm-raised deer and elk, but one leads into the
other.

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