F&W Division coping with bigtime shakeup

Field Editor

St. Paul The DNR’s former top fish and wildlife administrators
are meeting to find ways to reorganize their division and decide
who of the eight managers will be best suited for the five jobs
under the “integrated” administrative structure outlined by the
Merriam administration.

“The managers are sorting out and plugging in duties and
developing the functions of the different sections,” said DNR
Deputy Commissioner Mark Holsten early this week. “We’re asking the
managers to fill in the details. We’ve told them, Here’s what we
want,’ and asked them, How do we achieve it?’ “

The reorganization came as a surprise announcement to fish and
wildlife staff two weeks ago, when Fish and Wildlife Director John
Guenther told the administrators he’d eliminated their jobs and was
combining the fish and wildlife sections under a new administrative
structure. Instead of separate fish and wildlife hierarchies topped
with decision-making chiefs, a new bureaucracy with a director and
assistant director and five, generic program managers will oversee
fish and wildlife management and the massive Game and Fish
Fund.

Holsten says he hopes the reorganization is complete by the
first of June. Costs of the reorganization are born entirely by
hunting and fishing license buyers. Although the eight managers are
continuing to function as Fish and Wildlife leadership, Holsten
says most of their time is devoted to developing the
reorganization. All eight will retain employment with the DNR, but
it is uncertain what positions they will hold.

“The question is what skills do they bring and how does this fit
into the structure,” Holsten says. “Some may want to experience
different opportunities. Maybe they’ve worked in Research, but
they’ve always wanted to be in Operations.”

When asked where “the buck stops” in regard to fish and wildlife
management decisions, Holsten says it will depend on the
activity.

One decision-maker may handle fish stocking and another fish
regulations. Holsten said the decision-maker may not have a formal
background in fish management.

“Most of these guys have cross-degrees. When they go to school,
they’re trained in both disciplines. They’re all interchangeable to
some degree,” Holsten says.

DNR staff was not informed of the reorganization and first
learned of it through newspaper accounts. Holsten said the media
was calling about the reorganization before the meeting to announce
it to the affected employees was completed, which somehow muted the
agency’s ability to announce it to the staff.

Will the reorganization bring about better hunting and fishing?
Holsten says the public won’t notice any improvements in their game
bag. The integration will instead blend fish and wildlife funding,
because it “makes sense.”

“The reality is that a pheasant hunter is also an angler,”
Holsten says. “Good pheasant habitat improves water quality.”

Another level of integration will occur at the regional level,
where the Merriam team is promoting a concept called the “balanced
matrix.” Field personnel will be expected to coordinate fish and
wildlife work.

Will the reorganization fix any of Minnesota’s environmental
problems that have depressed the state’s fish and wildlife
populations?

“There are an infinite number of problems out there,” said
Holsten without elaborating. “This is designed to help us with the
ones we know today and can see for tomorrow.”

The new Fish and Wildlife Division will spend more time and
money talking about problems. A new section in the management
structure is called Outreach. In addition to attempting to work
more with farmers and other landowners, the administration will put
more energy into its hunting and fishing promotions.

Holsten says that participation in hunting and fishing has
declined slightly in Minnesota, although folks who hunt and fish
are doing it more often and spending more time doing it. He admits
the decline is not reflected in license sales, which have
increased, or in the growing concern about crowding on public lands
and loss of access to private lands.

Holsten says the reorganization purge was not intended to be
malicious and it has been perceived as insensitive to the people
affected by it. He says that he has the utmost respect for the
eight managers, including Wildlife Chief Tim Bremicker, who is
taking a regional wildlife position.

“I’ve lost sleep over this one,” Holsten says. “It’s that
important of a decision.”

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