Q What do you see as one of DNR Wildlife's greatest success stories?
The development of our wildlife management area system has got to be one of those neat success stories, not only here but nationwide. This has been a great program not only from a habitat conservation standpoint, but these wildlife management areas also provide places for people to hunt, trap, photograph, and experience wildlife. At 1.3 million acres, it's the largest system of state public wildlife land in the country. The USFWS modeled their waterfowl production area program after it, and it has been a model for other state agencies -- something we're really proud of.
Q Contrary to the national trend, the ranks of Minnesota hunters appear stable. What do you attribute this to?
A major factor is Minnesota's excellent public land base. In the northern forested part of the state, we've got extensive county, state, and national forest lands. In the farmland areas of the state, we've got wildlife management areas and waterfowl production areas. I think that availability of public land with good wildlife populations is an important factor. States that have seen the steepest drop in participation are states where private lands provide most of the hunting opportunity. We've also been through a period of really strong wildlife populations. We've had our highest deer harvests ever in the last 10 to 15 years. We lead the country in goose harvest, and pheasant populations are the best they've been since the 1950s. We've got some of the best ruffed grouse hunting in the country. These are pretty good times for hunters, and I think hunters are responding to those abundant populations.
Q Does the DNR plan to propose a ban of lead shot on state-owned uplands, similar to the one that exists on federal land?
We did propose this for public lands in the agricultural portion of the state in 2008. We weren't successful but still think it's important. These public lands are primarily state wildlife management areas. They're largely wetlands or uplands adjacent to a wetland, and we're concerned about the continued deposition of lead shot where waterfowl or shorebirds might pick these things up. These are heavily hunted areas, and large amounts of lead are being deposited, more so than on private lands. I think it is a reasonable first step and something that we will revisit again in the future.
Q How does the DNR help make sure hunters are safe, lawful, and ethical in the field?
We have a very good firearm safety program. We reach kids at an early age and instill ethics and safe hunting practices in them as well as their parents in many cases. It's a great way to get kids started on the right path. We also have a large southeast Asian community here in Minnesota, and we're one of the few states that actually has a DNR program that's focused on communicating with that community to make sure they have an understanding of the regulations.
Q How does the DNR help nonhunters understand the role of hunting in wildlife management?
I think Minnesota really has a strong hunting tradition. We have a constitutional amendment in place that protects the right of Minnesota citizens to hunt and trap. That amendment was supported by nearly 80 percent of the voters. I think that is a reflection of that strong hunting tradition in the state and also a reflection of the support that hunters have from nonhunters. There is a recognition that an awful lot of what hunters have funded in terms of conservation has also benefitted nongame wildlife and habitat.
Q What is your favorite quarry?
My dad was an avid waterfowl hunter and deer hunter. Of course that piqued my interest in hunting, which eventually led to a career in wildlife. Duck and deer hunting are still some real passions of mine, but as I've gotten older, I've started to enjoy upland hunting. I have an English springer spaniel that I like to get out in the field with, so in recent years I've probably spent more time out in the field chasing pheasants and grouse than ducks and deer.