Minnesota conservation legend Harvey Nelson passes away

Visiting my parents with the boys this weekend in southeast
Minnesota and planning to take them ice fishing today. Woke up too
early and checked my email. There, with a time of 10:32 p.m. Friday
was a sad note from a friend in conservation, Brad Nylin, the
executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association. He had
some bad news: A legend in state conservation and waterfowling
circles, Harvey Nelson, died yesterday at age 85.

The text of Nylin’s note follows:

“It saddens me to have to write this email. I received a call
from Harvey Nelson’s grandson, Shane King around 9 p.m. tonight
with the news that Harvey had passed away this evening. Apparently
he was having chest pains, was rushed to the hospital and passed
away enroute.

“I just spoke with Harvey yesterday. As usual he was anxious to
meet with our (Waterfowl) Symposium Committee to start planning
next years.

“This is shocking news, I don’t have further details, but wanted
you all to know that we lost a legend today.”

The news is shocking because Harvey was so vibrant and full of
life. I shook his hand and spoke with him Wednesday night at the
Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance banquet in St. Paul. There was
Harvey, as usual, busy taking pictures and chatting with everyone,
and frankly, appearing as happy and healthy as anyone in the room.
After the evening festivities, I asked him about the recent MWA
events in Bloomington and complimented him on his appearance and
dedication to the cause of conservation. “How old are you, Harvey?”
I asked. “I’m 85 and I’m going to make 90!” There was no doubt in
my mind that Harvey had the youthful exuberance and stamina to
deliver on those words, which is why the news of his passing comes
as such a shock.

I can think of no better model for a citizen conservationist
than Harvey Nelson. He had a long career with the U.S. Fish and
WIldlife Service and served as regional director for the agency
here at Ft. Snelling. As the son of a USFWS refuge manager on the
Mississippi River, I heard Harvey’s name frequently from my dad,
who — though several layers of management separated them —
considered Harvey his boss. (Dad sincerely liked and admired
Harvey, and that’s saying something: Like most field managers, my
father groused occasionally about agency brass in the Twin Cities,
but I never heard him say an ill will word about Harvey.)

Harvey Nelson could have settled into an easy retirement
completely removed from his career. He did just the opposite,
working and volunteering for decades on conservation projects with
MWA, MOHA, and other organizations. For that reason, Outdoor News
named him our second-ever Man of the Year back in the late 1990s
(Sorry I can’t be specific about the year, but I’m 150 miles from
my office this morning.) He had fun along the way, too, fishing
muskies, hunting waterfowl, and enjoying his family.

Outdoor News will publish a more thorough report about the life
and career of Harvey Nelson next week. Like the passing of his
friend and mentor Art Hawkins four years ago, this news truly is
devastating to the state’s conservation community. For this
morning, I ask anyone who cares about the nation’s natural
resources to pause a moment and thank this great man for all his
hard work. I’m proud to personally call Harvey Nelson my friend,
and this morning I’m sad to say goodbye to that friend.

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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