Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen on Tuesday named longtime agency insider Dave Olfelt as fish and wildlife director — a position central to her goal of making the outdoors more relevant to the masses.
Olfelt has been the DNR’s regional wildlife manager in Grand Rapids for the past three years. A 31-year veteran of the agency, he succeeds Jim Leach, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service executive who retired in April at age 65. Olfelt’s background at the DNR includes stints as a wildlife biologist and as a manager in the agency’s parks and trails division.
As fish and wildlife chief, he will oversee a biennial budget of more than $200 million and a staff of 600 employees. The job pays upward of $135,000 a year and Olfelt is taking it over at a time when participation in hunting and fishing is waning. Two other major concerns center around the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer and the contamination of state waters by farm runoff pollution and aquatic invasive species.
“The Fish & Wildlife division ensures that people from all walks of life can enjoy quality fishing and the aquatic habitats on Minnesota’s 4,500 managed lakes and 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams,” the DNR said in a news release. The division also ensures that people can “discover, explore, hunt and enjoy Minnesota’s diverse wildlife” on 5.6 million acres of DNR-administered lands.
Strommen said in April that she would search the nation for the right job candidate. She announced Olfelt as the winner of that competition on the same day that she promoted DNR insider Joe Henderson as director of the Lands and Minerals Division. His branch of the DNR authorizes and oversees mining.
“I’m thrilled that Dave and Joe have agreed to take director positions in these two, high-profile DNR divisions,” Strommen said. “They bring tremendous experience and passion for their specific disciplines, and for engaging with our stakeholders.”
Olfelt’s DNR career included a stint in the south metro area of the Twin Cities as an assistant area wildlife manager from 1988 to 1991. He worked as a biologist for what was then the agency’s Parks and Recreation Division and later became assistant regional wildlife manager in Grand Rapids until 2010. He moved to the newly created Parks and Trails Division, serving as assistant regional manager for the northeast until 2015, when he became regional wildlife manager.