If we want more ducks, Schad should pick up pace of progress

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2011 - 3:50 PM

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division director Dave Schad's promotion to deputy commissioner of the agency on Monday by new DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr won't be opposed publicly by any of the department's constituents. Still, a few are grumbling.

The move to kick Schad, 53, upstairs at DNR into the commissioner's office was foretold by Doug Smith last Friday in his Star Tribune report on Landwehr's appointment to the top DNR job by Gov. Mark Dayton.

A longtime friend of Landwehr's, Schad, who joined the DNR in 1981, is seen as a functionary, and an efficient one, but one who keeps his passion for natural resources stewardship fairly well hidden.

At least one key DNR stakeholder quietly tried to talk Landwehr out of his appointment of Schad to the deputy post at last weekend's agency Roundtable.

Obviously, he wasn't successful.

Landwehr views his pal Schad -- the two hunt pheasants together and regularly venture to Manitoba in October for ducks -- as a confidante, and someone who knows what's been happening at DNR in the dozen or so years since Landwehr has been gone from the department working for Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy.

Schad is also well versed in dealing with legislative committees and other duties at the Capitol that will confront the DNR in coming months. He replaces Laurie Martinson, who is well respected, but whose future with the DNR is unknown. For the time being, her duties will remain largely unchanged.

Still, Schad's appointment is not without possible downsides for Landwehr, and how effective their professional relationship is, ultimately, will depend to a significant degree on whether Landwehr's presumed new energy and vision for the agency wins over Schad, or whether Schad's seemingly rather more entrenched pace and outlook subsume his boss.

It's no small point. Privately, many DNR stakeholders who are primarily concerned with waterfowl and waterfowl habitat seethe at what they perceive to be the Fish and Wildlife Division's diffuse and ineffective attempts to rectify the state's duck decline.

"I can't even stand to listen to them talk about ducks,'' said one key waterfowl player at the Roundtable last weekend. "Nothing ever happens."

A year ago, at the DNR Roundtable, following a rousing speech and PowerPoint presentation by a onetime Missouri wildlife manager about waterfowl gains made in that state in the past decade, then-DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten hastily announced that the Minnesota DNR would undertake "moist soil management" in an attempt to attract and hold more ducks for longer periods in the state in both spring and fall.

A teacher by training, Holsten clearly took Schad and other top DNR wildlife managers by surprise with the announcement -- and no one present looked more uneasy with the ambitious plan than Schad.

A year later, under Schad as Fish and Wildlife Division director, the moist soil plan is still in its infancy, while Minnesota duck hunters continue to speak with their feet, leaving the sport in droves -- or else practicing it only in other states or Canadian provinces.

Cynically, it seems, only in the weeks leading up to this year's Roundtable, when Schad and his deputy, wildlife section chief Dennis Simon, had good reason to believe that waterfowl stakeholders would be hot to hear reports of at least some progress at last weekend's meetings, did Schad appear to pay much attention to the state's duck crisis.

In December, over a story about Schad and his "continued concern" about ducks and duck habitat in Minnesota, the rival sheet across the river carried the laughable headline, "Slow duck stamp sales spur DNR to act."

"Spurring the DNR to act" is something duck hunters have been attempting going back at least to the 1950s.

With little success.

Schad, of course, would argue some progress has been made, as would others in the wildlife section. But unfortunately, they and others in the DNR too often confuse being busy -- as in going to meetings -- with actually accomplishing something.

The trick, then, for Landwehr in the end -- if he is to succeed in running the DNR, rather than it running him -- is to be the tail that wags the dog, the one whose energy and ideas are bold enough in their vision, and executed well enough, to energize Schad and other key staff, and produce results, among them more ducks and improved duck habitat.

We'll see.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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