With Minnesota only months away from setting its first strategic, long-term deer management plan, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reassigned its point person on the project to a different job.

DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Jim Leach announced the key personnel change Monday in a memo to the 19-member Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee, a citizen group that has been meeting monthly around the state to develop deer population goals and strategies to obtain them.

Leach said the deer plan’s leader, Big Game Program Manager Adam Murkowski, has been shifted to a “priority position” in the agency’s land acquisition department focusing on new Wildlife Management Areas. Effective immediately, Murkowski’s replacement is Leslie McInenly, a DNR executive who headed the Big Game Program for several years before Murkowski took it over in January 2016.

Leach said in an interview that the agency is determined to write the first draft of the Deer Management Plan by sometime in December or January. McInenly is an “excellent writer,” he said, who also has significant experience with public outreach.

Meanwhile, Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations program manager, told the Star Tribune he will retire at the end of the calendar year. Like Murkowski, Merchant has been a key player in meetings to devise the deer plan.

In an interview, Leach said the change is meant to align personnel with strategic priorities at a critical time in developing the deer plan. Murkowski is moving laterally to a “very commensurate” job, he said. “It’s not like he’s being penalized,” Leach said.

“We’ve got to get the deer plan right the first time out of the box,” Leach said. “We are on track, but this is a big deal to us.”

To bolster the big game department while McInenly takes on her special assignment, the DNR will shift one of its area wildlife managers or assistant managers to perform other big game leadership functions, Leach said.

Murkowski, a Wisconsin native who previously worked as the deer team leader for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, could not be reached for comment. His tenure as Minnesota’s big game program manager initially was dominated by a state audit of DNR deer management practices. He then launched the long-range deer plan process.

With the deer plan, the DNR is trying to answer critics in the deer hunting community who want the agency to establish a sound foundation for herd management and make data related to those decisions available to the public.

Among other things, the plan will try to balance traffic safety and deer depredation agendas held by farmers, foresters, gardeners, and other social groups against hunters who want deer abundance.