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Dayton taps conservationist to head Minn. DNR

Minnesota Public Radio
Tim Pugmire
January 6, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. – Gov. Mark Dayton has hired someone with a long conservation record to lead the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Dayton announced Thursday that Tom Landwehr of Shoreview will join his cabinet as DNR commissioner, a position that oversees state lands and waters, wildlife management and outdoor recreation.

In announcing the appointment, Dayton noted that Landwehr has both an insider's knowledge of the DNR and an outsider's perspective of the agency.

Landwehr spent 17 years at the DNR beginning in the early 1980s. He worked as a research biologist, Wildlife Manager and Wetland Wildlife Program Leader. Landwehr later served as state conservation director for Ducks Unlimited and assistant state director for The Nature Conservancy.

"I've sort of been in training for this job for 30 years," he said.

Landwehr said he'll bring a number of different perspectives to a job that he reluctantly agrees might be one of the most controversial in state government.

A DNR commissioner must balance the distinct and often competing interests of several constituencies. Landwehr says those interests, which range from hunting and fishing to timber and mining, are all tied to the economy.

"He knows land. He knows wildlife. He knows the people. It's a great choice." – Dave Zentner, Izaak Walton League

"There are a lot of jobs that revolve around the use of our natural resources. That's always been the case in Minnesota," he said. "When you're talking about people's pocketbooks as well as their passions, you won't find a more passionate people than campers and hunters and anglers."

Landwehr said he's already scheduled several meetings in northeastern Minnesota to learn more about the state's mining industry, since he doesn't have much experience in that subject. But Landwehr said when it comes to issuing permits for mining projects, he already knows he wants to improve the process.

"The bureaucracy of processing a permit ought not be a stumbling block. Projects ought to be evaluated on their merits and consequences," he said.

MinnesotaMining Executive Director Frank Ongaro said he's pleased that Gov. Dayton has expressed support for the new copper-nickel mining ventures that his group represents.

But following Dayton's appointment of another environmental advocate to head the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Ongaro wondered if the outside investors his industry needs might react negatively to the choice of Landwehr.

"That may be an interesting sign to the investment community around the world about Minnesota's inviting investment in mining," he said.

Representatives of hunting, fishing and conservation groups heard about the Landwehr appointment as they gathered in Brooklyn Center for a forum on the state's Outdoor Heritage Fund. Organizer Dave Zentner, a past national president of Izaak Walton League, was enthusiastic about the selection.

"He knows land. He knows wildlife. He knows the people. It's a great choice," said Zentner.

State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were also quick to praise Landwehr. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, the new chair of the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Budget and Policy Committee, said Landwehr brings the right kind of experience to the DNR.

"I know him fairly well, and I know he's a hunter and fisher, and his concerns are about not only the environment but also about sportsmen. So, I'm very excited about working with him," said Ingebrigtsen.

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, also liked the pick. Saxhaug, whose district covers some of the state's prime recreation, timber and mining areas, said he's confident Landwehr can balance competing interests, and also help upstart mining operations succeed.

"It's crucial for the economic well being of northern Minnesota, and consequently Minnesota," said Saxhaug. "But it's very important that it be done in the proper way, so that a beautiful part of northeastern Minnesota is in no way harmed."

Landwehr succeeds Mark Holsten, who headed the DNR for the past four years of the Pawlenty administration. The DNR has more than 2,600 employees statewide.

(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly attributed Frank Ongaro's comments to another MinnesotaMining official and identified the organization as Minnesota Mining. MPR News regrets the error.)