DNR veteran Swenson to leave regional post

Associate Editor

Bemidji, Minn. After 12 years as a DNR regional director in
northern Minnesota, Paul Swenson will move into a new position this
month.

DNR Deputy Commissioner Mark Holsten said Swenson, 59, of
Bemidji’s Region 1 office, will work with tribal natural resources
departments on issues affecting both tribes and the state. Holsten
said DNR Enforcement supervisor Roger Tietz will take over the
vacated position on an acting basis.

“(Swenson) will open doors that have not been opened, and
establish relationships that need to be established,” Holsten said.
“He is highly respected by tribal authorities in the
northwest.”

Swenson’s departure comes at at time when land-use controversies
between state and local governments especially issues regarding
off-highway vehicle use on public lands are heating up.

The forest use plan for Beltrami Island State Forest is taking
center stage, as the DNR accepts comments on its plan. Within the
forest boundaries is a maze of county land, federal land, and state
land, including scientific and natural areas, and wildlife
management areas.

“Beltrami is a hard one,” Holsten said this week. “It’s one of
complexities that are dramatically different.”

Swenson’s DNR career began 29 years ago and includes a stint as
the director of the Trails and Waterways Division. But the latest
debate regarding OHV use on public land in the northwest has been
the hottest, he said.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of controversial issues, but I’ve
never seen one this divisive,” he said.

“I’ve been dealing with these issues for a number of years, and
when I look back, I’d say it’s probably time for someone else to
deal with these things,” Swenson said.

Besides state land access issues, local county governments and
special interest groups, and other parties have butted heads over
ditch use and maintenance, especially on Consolidated Conservation
lands whose history dates back to the 1930s when the state took
ownership.

Holsten said the agency had not determined a long-term
replacement for Swenson, though he said it would not be a former
legislator, as local rumors had suggested.

Barry Babcock, of the Jackpine Coalition, a northern Minnesota
environmental group, said the coalition is concerned that because
the position is non-union, the replacement might be chosen on a
political basis, rather than because of natural resource
expertise.

Swenson said he views this as a positive change, and is ready to
begin his new duties.

“It’s time for me to do some new things,” he said.

Swenson said his position will include coordinating DNR
activities with that of tribal natural resources departments.

“I want to concentrate on areas where we need to improve overall
coordination,” he said.

Swenson said he will continue to work from the Bemidji
office.

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