Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioner Tom Landwehr oversees a staff of about 2,700 people throughout the state.
He has authority over public lands and waters, state parks and forests, timber, mineral resources, recreational trails and wildlife of the state.
On March 29, Landwehr was in the Alexandria area for meetings with the local DNR staff based out of Glenwood. Landwehr stopped into the Echo Press office before traveling onto southwestern Minnesota for more meetings with staff the next day.
Landwehr answered questions on a number of issues, including a couple that are top of mind for many anglers and hunters with new muskie legislation being introduced again in the Minnesota House and Senate this year and the state's long-term deer plan almost ready to be introduced to the public. Here is what he had to say on both of those fronts.
MUSKIES NOT A THREAT
Landwehr took over the top position for the DNR in January of 2011. At that time, the DNR's long-term muskie management plan had been put in place.
The plan called for the introduction of muskies into eight new lakes in Minnesota by 2020. The DNR has started stocking efforts on six of those.
"People always say what does the DNR want? We don't want anything," Landwehr said. "We channel what other people want. By virtue of this plan, the fisherman have said they want eight additional lakes. We have to bring in the reality of us getting that legislatively and right now is not a time for us to be designating new muskie lakes because the legislature is already trying to shut us down. I don't see us getting to eight lakes by 2020."
Landwehr said the DNR goes through a rigorous process, including a biological assessment of lakes, when deciding on what new bodies of water to target for muskie stocking. At the time the long-term plan in Minnesota was introduced, there were three lakes the DNR targeted in Otter Tail County as having great potential as muskie fisheries.
"That really seemed to create angst in a particular crowd," Landwehr said. "I don't know how to characterize it, but there's an active lake association on Pelican Lake, which has been stocked with muskies for a long time. At that time, the opposition really started coalescing."
Bills to halt the stocking efforts into these new lakes have come up frequently in recent years at the state legislature, and more were introduced in the House and Senate in March. The Senate bill authored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria received a lot of attention after originally calling for a moratorium on muskie stocking until independent research outside of the DNR could be done to determine the fish's impact on other native species. The Senate bill, SF 3319, had a hearing on March 26 where everything from the bill was removed except for language pertaining to lakes in Otter Tail County.
Landwehr said he understands that both the pro-muskie and anti-muskie crowd are passionate about their stances. His concern comes in the actual arguments made against muskie stocking.
"You typically hear three arguments against muskie stocking. One is that it's bad for the fishery. There's no biological evidence of that whatsoever. That has no substance," Landwehr said. "There's concern there would be more invasive species brought by virtue of having muskie anglers coming in. There is no evidence to suggest that. People coming in to fish panfish or anything else have just as much likelihood of bringing these in. The third is that there is going to be this huge influx of new anglers by virtue of muskies. I don't believe that's true. The reality is that if you're a muskie fisherman, the big time of year is October and November when other anglers have gone away."
As it stands, Landwehr, who does not actively fish for muskies himself, said he believes Minnesota has as good of a muskie fishery as any place in the country in terms of waters to fish, population densities and the ability to catch a trophy fish. There are currently more than 100 muskie waters in the state.
"I would argue we've got the best muskie fishing in North America, certainly the United States," he said. "Wisconsin had that moniker, but I think Minnesota is capturing it."
DEER PLAN ALMOST READY FOR ITS RELEASE
Minnesota's deer management plan that has been almost two years in the making is almost ready to be released to the public.
An advisory committee, consisting of 19 citizens from hunting organizations and a wide range of stakeholders, helped craft the plan starting in December of 2016. The deer plan is designed to:
• Communicate a vision for white-tailed deer management in Minnesota
• Outline strategic direction through deer management values, goals, and objectives that will be used to prioritize agency resources and activities
• Describe DNR responsibilities and efforts related to deer management
• Provide a multi-level structure for public engagement
The deer plan will not specifically address many operational issues that hunters commonly raise such as desires to change a specific regulation.
"The deer plan will provide more general guidance," Landwehr said. "A lot of it will be about information and how do we share information? How do we collect hunter input?"
Settling on a harvest goal and how the DNR manages toward that goal in the coming years has been a big part of the process.
"We've never had that," Landwehr said of the annual harvest objective. "Do we need it? I think it's informational. It tells us that we have to manage each of these permit areas to such a level that it can sustain a harvest level at the top."
Landwehr said that target number of whitetails killed each year will likely be 200,000.
"I think it's going to end up being a population that provides for a 40 percent success rate," he said. "Figure 500,000 hunters and 40 percent success, that means shooting 200,000 deer."
The deer plan is being reviewed by the advisory committee and will be released for the public soon where people can comment on the plan. A final version of the plan is then expected to be released this summer.