Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries chief Ron Payer, 57, announced Sept. 17 at the agency’s annual fall fisheries managers meeting in Cloquet that he will retire Nov. 2.
The announcement took most at the DNR by surprise. Payer has worked at the DNR just over 32 years, starting in 1977 in Rochester, where he was assigned to purchase permanent easements to southeast Minnesota trout streams.
Pay range for his job is $67,700 to $97,217.
Payer has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from South Dakota State University and a master’s from the same school in fisheries biology.
He has also worked for the DNR as an acid rain biologist, a trout biologist and a senior fisheries biologist in Grand Rapids, among other positions. He has been chief since 1998.
He and his wife, Holly, have two married sons, Sean, 34, and Paul, 28, and one grandchild. Both Sean and Paul are avid hunters and anglers.
I asked Payer why he retired, and about his DNR career:
Question: How long have you been considering retirement?
Answer: As state employees, we operate under the “Rule of 90,’’ meaning when your age and years of service equal 90, you can retire with full benefits. For me, that occurred in September. It was a difficult decision. I’m still very interested in the work. When you consider retiring, you look at your finances, your health and what things you still want to do. I want to travel with my wife, do more hunting and fishing with my friends and family, and be more active in my church and community. Looking at those things, it probably made sense to do it now.
Q: How is your health?
A: It’s pretty good. I don’t have any triggers right now that caused me to retire. I’ve had some heart issues I’ve been dealing with. In 1999 I had three surgeries and six stents put in. While I’m in pretty good shape right now, that’s always something you consider.
Q: Which part of your jobs was the most fun?
A: Working with people both inside and outside the DNR.
Q: Which accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: Everything was done in conjunction with a lot of people. In the southeast we worked well with landowners. The acid rain stint was enjoyable. The hooking mortality study we did on walleyes was very intriguing — it was one of the first two or three of its kind in the country. We’ve got a very good budgeting program in place. Also, we’ve worked hard to get people linked into the fishing opportunities the state has and we’ve helped provide. There’s a host of things our staff has accomplished.
Q: Anything you feel you’ve left undone?
A: Clearly we need to look again at our suite of regulations. Are they meeting anglers’ expectations? Additionally, we now have incredible opportunities to address aquatic habitat. With the vote on the constitutional amendment, Minnesotans told us that it’s important to them. In the habitat arena I think we’re in line to make a definable difference on the landscape. Zebra mussels and other invasives remain a problem. But I’m so impressed with the energy that our stakeholders have for fishing. As I told the fisheries staff, leadership changes give us a chance to build on our successes. I’m confident that will occur. I leave feeling very good with the direction we’re going.
Q: Are there qualified replacements for you within the DNR?
A: There are several people. I don’t know whether the commissioner’s office will pick from them or will also do a national search. I know we have a number of very qualified folks internally.