DNR commissioner reaches out to northwest Minnesota

HALLOCK, Minn. -- Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and representatives from Kittson, Marshall and Roseau counties covered a lot of ground -- everything from ATV access to land swaps to nuisance beavers -- Wednesday aft...

Tom Landwehr
Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

HALLOCK, Minn. -- Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and representatives from Kittson, Marshall and Roseau counties covered a lot of ground -- everything from ATV access to land swaps to nuisance beavers -- Wednesday afternoon during a meeting in the Kittson County Courthouse.

But more importantly, they began to bridge gaps and start a healing process that's been a long time coming.

Ask just about anyone who lives in northwest Minnesota, and they'll tell you the DNR hasn't exactly won any popularity contests in recent years. Some have gone so far as to say DNR stands for "Damn-Near Russia."

Pretty harsh, I know, but there's a mistrust of the DNR that runs pretty deep in some circles.

Whether that mistrust is justified is a matter of opinion.


Nowhere in northwest Minnesota, perhaps, have the hard feelings run deeper than Kittson County, where county officials long have battled the DNR over access to township road grade corridors in Beaches Lake Wildlife Management Area.

There've been plenty of other issues, as well, but the ATV-road grade conflict has been a biggie.

As Herald staff writer Ryan Bakken reported in 2006, the DNR felt the road grades should be closed to ATVs, even though road-licensed vehicles could use them. While state regulations prohibit motorized vehicles on WMA lands, county officials felt the corridors were township roads and as such should be open to ATVs, as well.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Wednesday in Hallock that a resolution appears to be at hand that will allow ATVs to access the corridors. A required federal review is nearly complete, Landwehr said, and he expects the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact.

Landwehr said he'd like to see the issue resolved by Saturday's Minnesota deer season opener, but most likely it will happen later in November.

"I'm delighted to report we'll be able to get that one checked off," he said.

Landwehr was appointed to the DNR helm in January by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, and this week's visit marked his second to northwest Minnesota. Joining him were Lori Dowling, named in May as regional director of the DNR's Northwest Region; Paul Telander, regional wildlife manager in Bemidji; and Bob Lessard, a retired legislator from International Falls who now is a special assistant to the commissioner.

"We are here to listen," Landwehr said. "We do know some things we can shed light on."


The significance of Landwehr making a second trip to northwest Minnesota wasn't lost among county officials. Joe Bouvette, chairman of the Kittson County Board, said relations with the DNR have improved under the new administration.

Previously, he said, the DNR too often took the attitude that WMAs and other public lands were "their land."

"We have to have people that will come to our meetings, who will tell us the truth," Bouvette said.

Landwehr said he can't undo what's happened in the past, but he gave county officials his number and told them to call anytime there's a problem.

On a regional level, Dowling said she, too, is looking to put previous differences aside.

"It's my intention we'll move forward in the spirit of cooperation," Dowling said.

Although he had to catch a plane to the Twin Cities on Wednesday night for a 7:30 a.m. Thursday meeting, Landwehr wasn't in a hurry to cut the listening session short. He and the rest of the DNR officials listened more than two hours.

"It's a big day having the leader of the DNR in Kittson County, so we really appreciate your coming here," Kelly Bengtson, Kittson County engineer, told Landwehr.


"Your time is as valuable as mine," Landwehr replied. "Talk is cheap, I know that. If I'm here a year from now talking about these same things, I'll consider that a failure."

There's little doubt Landwehr is committed to tackling northwest Minnesota issues in a way that hasn't necessarily happened under more recent commissioners.

"A breath of fresh air," is how Bouvette described it.

"I really look forward to the future with the DNR," Bouvette added. "I think we're going to be moving in the right direction, but it's going to take some time."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148;

or send email to .

Brad Dokken mug

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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