Carrol Henderson: Champion of Minnesota's nongame wildlife

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH
  • Updated: March 13, 2013 - 12:14 AM

Carrol Henderson, head of the DNR's non-game wildlife program for 35 years.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger


Carrol Henderson has raised Minnesota’s nongame wildlife program since it hatched 36 years ago, fostering both species and good will.

Standing on Mississippi River shoreline, gazing at hundreds of trumpeter swans cavorting there, Carrol Henderson can’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction.

Once nearly absent from the state, the huge birds with 7-foot wingspans were reintroduced in the 1980s through the efforts of several agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources nongame wildlife program, headed by Henderson. Now, more than 5,000 trumpeters thrive here, including the hundreds that gather each winter on the Mississippi River near Monticello.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling,’’ said Henderson, who played a key role in jump-starting the population with trumpeter eggs from Alaska.

The recovery of Minnesota’s swans is one of the biggest success stories of the state’s nongame wildlife program, launched 36 years ago. Henderson, 66, is the oft-recognized face of the program he’s headed since its inception. One of the first such programs in the nation, it also is credited with helping restore the peregrine falcon and bluebird populations as well as reintroducing otters to western Minnesota and monitoring the state’s beloved loons.

In all, the program is responsible for more than 700 nongame species.

“Carrol has been one of the biggest household names the DNR has had,’’ said Steve Hirsch, director of the DNR’s Ecological and Water Resources Division. “He’s so passionate and committed to nongame wildlife that he inspires others to feel that way, too."

Though once a one-man show, the program now has 16 employees working around the state to help nongame wildlife. Volunteers, groups and other agencies have been instrumental in the program’s success, too, he said.

“Ours is a tiny program,’’ he said. “We can’t do all the work. We’ll never have enough money. But if we get people inspired to help wildlife through our program, it multiplies itself many times over.’’

Henderson has kindled citizen interest by authoring five books for the DNR, including “Landscaping for Wildlife,” “Woodworking for Wildlife,” “Wild About Birds: The DNR Bird Feeding Guide,’’ and “Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality.’’ More than 250,000 copies have been sold.

“If you can show people what they can do on their own property, they’ll do it,’’ Henderson said. “People say it’s changed their lives.’’

The nongame wildlife program is unusual in that it is almost entirely dependent on donations.

“People think we get money from the lottery and from the Game and Fish Fund [from hunting and fishing license fees], but we don’t,’’ said the DNR’s Lori Naumann.

A tax-form checkoff was launched in 1980, allowing state taxpayers to donate to the program. Last year, 66,000 residents gave more than $1 million. That generated another $1 million match from the state’s critical habitat license plate program, which is funded by citizens voluntarily paying an extra $30 or more for a wildlife license plate. And the program got another $700,000 in matching federal grants.

It turns out Henderson probably has been the largest donor. All royalties from his DNR books — more than $250,000 so far — have gone to the program.

While Minnesotans have consistently donated more than $1 million to the program via the tax checkoffs, there are concerns.

“The number of people contributing has been declining, though the amount they give has increased,’’ said Naumann. Twenty years ago, 130,000 people gave an average of $7.37. Last year, the 66,000 contributors — about 2 percent of those who filed tax returns — gave an average of $16.14.

“I know more than 2 percent of our population cares about wildlife,’’ Henderson said. The falloff might be tied to the passing of older, conservation-minded citizens.

“We’re losing them, like older hunters and anglers,’’ he said. “We have to make a more concerted effort to reach young people and create future conservationists.’’

Some recent wildlife issues have hurt donations, too, Henderson said. The reinstatement of a mourning dove hunting season in 2004, the launching of a sandhill crane hunting season in 2010, and the opening of a wolf hunting season last fall are examples.

“We got letters, phone calls, e-mails” from people opposed to hunting those species, said Naumann.

A remote video camera that peers into an eagles’ nest near the Twin Cities is one way the program has tried to reach more people this winter. Three eggs produced by the adult pair failed to hatch, but the live feed, available on the DNR’s website, generated 100,000 unique viewers and $1,700 in donations, some from out of state.

Meanwhile, Henderson said he’s still having too much fun to retire.
“This is such a rewarding job, I don’t see a good reason to head out the door.’’


  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Detroit 69 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Portland 94 FINAL
Cleveland 99
Sacramento 102 FINAL
Toronto 119
Boston 98 FINAL
Minnesota 110
Dallas 94 FINAL
Houston 99
Denver 93 FINAL
New Orleans 85
Brooklyn 102 FINAL
Atlanta 113
Oklahoma City 92 FINAL
New York 100
Charlotte 86 FINAL
San Antonio 95
LA Clippers 94 FINAL
Utah 89
Washington 98 FINAL
Phoenix 106
Toronto 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Pittsburgh 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Chicago 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Temple 86 FINAL
UCF 62
Winthrop 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 68
Lafayette 59 FINAL
Colgate 54
Northeastern 60 FINAL
Drexel 65
Wake Forest 76 FINAL
Florida State 82
Rhode Island 64 FINAL
Fordham 63
Delaware 82 FINAL
James Madison 88
South Carolina 58 FINAL
LSU 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Maine 58
Seton Hall 80 FINAL
Marquette 70
Binghamton 68 FINAL
American Univ 54 FINAL
Navy 64
Elon 65 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 82
Wright State 76 FINAL
Oakland 84
Minnesota 58 FINAL
Penn State 63
Duquesne 55 FINAL
Richmond 86
South Florida 52
Hartford 66 FINAL
Stony Brook 72
Albany 47 FINAL
Vermont 44
Hofstra 79 FINAL
William & Mary 100
UNC-Asheville 74 FINAL
Longwood 64
Radford 84 FINAL
Char Southern 77
Holy Cross 0 Postponed
Loyola-Maryland 0
Duke 73 FINAL
Notre Dame 77
Texas Tech 36 FINAL
Oklahoma 81
Oregon State 55 FINAL
Arizona State 73
Morehead State 82 FINAL
Austin Peay 69
Drake 69 FINAL
Bradley 57
Lehigh 62 FINAL
Bucknell 68
Rice 48 FINAL
Houston 59
Missouri State 57 FINAL
Illinois State 67
Loyola-Chicago 47 FINAL
Wichita State 58
Nebraska Omaha 64 FINAL
South Dakota St 86
Northern Iowa 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
Louisville 81 FINAL
Boston College 72
St Johns 74 FINAL
Creighton 77
East Carolina 58 FINAL
Memphis 70
Georgia Tech 70 FINAL
Miami-Florida 50
Miss State 73 FINAL
Ole Miss 79
Clemson 68 FINAL
NC State 57
Indiana 67 FINAL
Purdue 83
Kansas 64 FINAL
TCU 61
Oregon 56 FINAL
Arizona 90
Air Force 66 FINAL
San Jose St 52
Stanford 84 FINAL
Washington 74
Rider 56 FINAL
Siena 49
Dayton 76 FINAL
Richmond 62
Eastern Kentucky 53 FINAL
Jacksonville St 73
Saint Josephs 0 Postponed
Saint Louis 0
Binghamton 55
Akron 60 FINAL
Ohio U 72
Ball State 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 55
Memphis 56 FINAL
Cincinnati 44
East Carolina 32 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 87
Murray State 59 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 75
Kent State 63 FINAL
Central Michigan 65
UT Martin 64 FINAL
Tennessee St 58
Eastern Michigan 56 FINAL
Western Mich 83
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Lehigh 76
Indiana 57 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Colgate 56 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Fordham 66 FINAL
Davidson 45
Duquesne 76 FINAL
St Bonaventure 64
George Mason 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 70
Detroit 59 FINAL
Youngstown St 58
Army 0 Postponed
Boston U 0
Loyola-Maryland 0 Postponed
Holy Cross 0
Tulsa 74
Oklahoma St 54 FINAL
Kansas State 52
West Virginia 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 73
Denver 56 FINAL
South Dakota 82
Northwestern St 46 FINAL
Central Arkansas 63
Austin Peay 67 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 87
Kansas 61 FINAL
Iowa State 56
Bowling Green 50 FINAL
Northern Ill 67
Penn State 64 FINAL
Minnesota 75
San Jose St 80 FINAL
Air Force 83
Boise State 82 FINAL
Colorado State 83
Utah State 51 FINAL
Wyoming 86
San Diego State 50 FINAL
Fresno State 57
Nevada 52 FINAL
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question