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Minnesota DNR's new leader starting with full plate

ST. PAUL Two years ago, Tom Landwehr and his 11-year-old son, Hunter, were wading across a shallow marsh, hoping the youngster could bag his first duck. As they worked toward a pile of fieldstones, Hunter's boots got mired in the mud, and the dee...


Two years ago, Tom Landwehr and his 11-year-old son, Hunter, were wading across a shallow marsh, hoping the youngster could bag his first duck.

As they worked toward a pile of fieldstones, Hunter's boots got mired in the mud, and the deepening water threatened to soak his socks. Determined to reach a promising hunting spot, father and son agreed on a plan: Tom would put Hunter on his back and carry him the final 50 yards.

The scene got all three of us laughing because just as Hunter jumped on his dad's back, his boots slipped off and I had to carry them the rest of the way. A few minutes later it started to rain, further compounding the notion that we were crazy, determined duck hunters.

I was recalling that drizzly duck opener Thursday when Gov. Mark Dayton named Landwehr, 55, the new commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.


In Landwehr, Minnesota's hunters and anglers get a hook-and-bullet commissioner with an MBA. He also comes with professional credentials: seven years as assistant state director of The Nature Conservancy, four years as state conservation director for Ducks Unlimited, nine years as a DNR wetlands wildlife manager and six years as a DNR field wildlife manager in Shakopee, Owatonna and Madison.

Minnesota has nearly 1.5 million hunters and anglers, and many of them count down the days until the pheasant season opens or when the crappies start biting in the spring. You can count Landwehr as one of those die-hards.

The question now: What are Minnesotans' expectations for Landwehr now that he is putting the DNR on his shoulders?

He faces a litany of issues, small and large. His agency, like others, is in the process of retrenching because of budget cuts. On Friday, he'll hold court at the annual DNR Roundtable, where he'll face questions about hunting and fishing license-fee increases, the state's new duck-management plan and whether Minnesotans should be allowed to use two fishing lines instead of just one.

In the Republicancontrolled Legislature, he faces lawmakers eager to create jobs, especially on the Iron Range where plans for the new PolyMet copper mine are undergoing the permitting process. Environmentalists oppose the type of sulfide mining process planned for PolyMet, fearing water pollution near the Boundary Waters.

PolyMet is front and center for Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, who said one of his first questions for Landwehr will be how the DNR can streamline its permitting process.

"We'll jump right into the permitting process and try to streamline that a little bit more," Ingebrigtsen said. "Jobs are a big thing right now."

But don't interpret Ingebrigtsen's impatience as opposition to Landwehr's appointment. They already know each other from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, where Ingebrigtsen has reviewed Nature Conservancy projects led by Landwehr.


"I think he will be well received by the Republican caucus," Ingebrigtsen said. "I know Tom will hit the road running. He's very knowledgeable about natural resources, and I think he's real professional."

Dayton repeatedly said during the campaign that he heard Minnesotans complain about DNR "arrogance." Dayton said that was one thing he wanted to change at the DNR.

I asked Landwehr what that means for his leadership. He told me a story about a DNR secretary who heard Dayton's comments and took it to heart. Landwehr said the "arrogance" label isn't fair to all DNR employees, but "I want to make sure people understand that arrogance won't be tolerated in the department," he said.

"I would hope people (in the agency) would understand what it's like to be a public servant. The most important person you're working for is the person who is on the other end of the telephone," he said.

Listening is a good skill for any DNR employee, and Landwehr said he expects to do a lot of it. He hits the road next week with Dayton to visit northwestern Minnesota and meet with county commissioners, probably the DNR's toughest critics.

"It's all about relationships," Landwehr said about his new job. "It's sitting down and talking face to face with people. With someone who doesn't know me, talking face to face usually changes the whole tone of the conversation."

Niskanen is a Pioneer Press outdoors writer.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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