Help wanted: DNR seeking chief warden

Madison — Wisconsin’s fish and wildlife law-enforcement efforts are in for a major change this year since DNR Bureau of Enforcement administrator Tim Lawhern unexpectedly retired in July.

Another high-level loss will occur this fall when DNR Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark retires.

The exact reasons for Lawhern’s sudden retirement are not clear, but he was a nationally recognized leader in hunter safety education. Prior to his retirement, Lawhern had said publicly that he planned to be the person heading up the selection of a new chief conservation warden.

Once Lawhern retired, the DNR eliminated his position.

One source said Lawhern officially has retired, though he is using up accumulated annual leave, so although he is no longer listed on the DNR’s staff directory, he is technically still on the state payroll.

Another source said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp had told Lawhern his post would be eliminated, and then offered him the chief warden job. Wisconsin Outdoor News was told that Lawhern declined that offer.

Stark had announced his retirement nearly a year ago and had expected to be fully retired by now, but when Lawhern retired, DNR officials convinced Stark to stay longer.

Stark had been the state’s chief warden since 2002. He is also the president of the National Association of Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs. Stark is expected to retire following the November deer season.

Stark has led the warden force during political turmoil within the state and involved the warden force in programs to increase the number of hunters, anglers, and trappers in the state.

The ultimate decision on Stark’s replacement will now belong Stepp, but following the resignation of Lawhern, and the elimination of his position, the point person to find the new chief warden is Al Shea.

Shea, part of the executive team at the DNR, began working with the agency in 1984 as a water quality planner. He became administrator of the Air and Waste Division and then served as deputy secretary in 2010.

He now is director of the DNR’s Office of Business Support, and is the fourth member of the secretary’s office.

The original announcement of the chief’s position was to close June 30, but at that point the posting was extended to July 31. There was speculation in the conservation community that the DNR hierarchy was not satisfied with the original pool of applicants and extended the posting to allow more candidates to apply.

Shea said that was not the case.

“With Tim’s retirement we thought it would be prudent to re-open it and have more continuity in the hiring process since Tim Lawhern was to have run the process,” he said.

Now Shea will be involved in the process from start to finish. He is now responsible for completing the recruitment process and is putting together interview panels and anticipates a couple rounds of interviews and possibly a process that involves “customers of the position.”

He also anticipates that at least one member of the Natural Resources Board will be involved in the final interview panel.

“This is a really, really, really critical position for this agency, so we are going to do a thorough job of interviews and other assessments,” Shea said.

The candidate will have to go through extra steps, including a background check and psychological evaluation to which other state employees aren’t subjected.

“I’m hopeful that we can have the selection done by the end of October. The sooner the better, obviously, as it is critical to have someone on board as far in advance of the deer-hunting season as possible,” Shea said.

He sees benefit in having some overlap between the new chief warden and Stark.

Shea would not divulge how many applications the DNR received for the position, but he did say it was a solid list from within the DNR and outside the DNR, including some from outside of Wisconsin.

Is there any one thing that Shea sees as most important?

“Given the administration’s focus on improving customer service, a successful candidate will have to bring the same dedication to providing progressive customer service similar to what Chief Stark has brought,” Shea said.

The person must be able to work with groups such as anglers, hunters, trappers, and other recreationalists to come up with common solutions to problems.

The position description lists the salary range of the chief warden, classified as a natural resources manager, at $89,000 to $100,000 annually.

The announcement says the candidate should possess at least a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice, business, public administration, or a related major. The person must have knowledge of law enforcement and its application to natural resources and environmental protection, and supervisory techniques.

The candidate should have skills to develop and manage technical, lengthy, and complex investigations, read and understand legal and technical documents, and presentation skills with computer-based systems.

The candidate must be able to effectively reach understanding and agreement with a broad range of people internally and externally, and have the ability to build and utilize partnerships.

The DNR, and its forerunner the Wisconsin Conservation Department, have had 10 chief conservation wardens. They include Harley MacKenzie, Ernest Swift, Barney Devine, A.J. Robinson, George Hadland, Walt Zelinske, Don Beghin, Ralph Christensen, Tom Harelson, and Randy Stark.

Each chief warden in the past has come from inside the agency, so hiring a new chief from outside of the DNR would be a change that might also present a challenge for an outside candidate get up to speed, especially with the nine-day gun deer season looming.

Wisconsin Outdoor News Editor Dean Bortz contributed to this report.

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