Minnesota hunters, anglers and conservationists might not recognize Bill Becker’s name, but they are beginning to see his impact on wildlife habitat around the state.
Becker has been executive director of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which oversees spending millions of Legacy Amendment dollars for the outdoors, since its inception in 2009. He has been a key player in helping the council determine how to spend that taxpayer money.
So far, the council has recommended about $524 million in projects affecting nearly a half-million acres.
Now Becker is retiring, and the task of finding a successor has begun.
“He’s integral to every process that goes on [at the council],’’ said David Hartwell of Minneapolis, council chair. “He’s done a fabulous job. It won’t be easy to find a replacement.’’
If pay is an indicator of the importance of the position, consider this: Becker is paid about $107,000. Tom Landwehr, the Department of Natural Resources commissioner who oversees 2,700 full-time employees and an $890 million two-year budget, earns $119,000.
Becker, 65, of Minnetonka, will retire at the end of the year. He plans to do more hunting and fishing.
“It’s time to enjoy life,’’ he said.
A group of Lessard-Sams council members will review job applications. Ultimately, the full council will select Becker’s replacement.
“Our goal is to have someone by Sept. 1,’’ Hartwell said.
Garry Leaf of Bloomington is head of Sportsmen for Change, which pushed for passage of the constitutional amendment in 2008 dedicating three-eighths of 1 percent of the state sales tax to the outdoors. He said the hiring will be key to ensure Legacy Amendment dollars are spent as intended.
“I think it’s one of the most important decisions those council members will make,’’ Leaf said. “It’s a big deal. We would like someone with a strong hunting and angling background, and familiarity with the [conservation] programs out there.’’
And the person needs to be able to stand up to political pressure from legislators, he added. Already issues have arisen, including how to divide spending between the metro area and outstate Minnesota and whether some Outdoor Heritage dollars should go to parks.
“We’ll argue about that forever,’’ Becker said. “You have to have balance. I don’t know many hunters and anglers who don’t appreciate good habitat no matter where it’s at.’’
Another controversial issue is how much money to devote to the battle against aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels and Asian carp. Some fear that fight is a potential “black hole’’ that could consume too many Outdoor Heritage dollars.
“Absolutely,’’ Becker said.
But he said the threat is a huge challenge for the state, and some projects likely are worth funding.