Clarification: A story July 1 concerning the move of the Department of Natural Resources' wildlife office in Willmar to Sibley State Park contained a fact that needs clarification. The DNR's Communication Director Colleen Coyne said Wednesday that the Willmar office closing decision was made due to the DNR management's long-range streamlining effort to provide better service delivery; not from any directive from Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office.
WILLMAR -- For the first time in more than 50 years, Willmar is without the presence of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife or forestry office.
The state's budget crisis has led to decisions to move the wildlife office and eliminate the forestry position.
The wildlife and forestry staffs have shared office space at 4566 Highway 71 N.E. in Willmar for more than 10 years.
The DNR is eliminating the Willmar, Mankato and New Ulm forestry positions and not filling vacancies in other forestry positions throughout southern Minnesota, according to employees in the local office. Shane Delaney, DNR forestry senior specialist for the past five years in Willmar, transferred. He began duties Monday with the DNR forestry office in Wannaska, located near Roseau in the state's northwest corner.
The DNR wildlife office is being moved to the former manager's residence within Sibley State Park near New London.
Wildlife Manager LeRoy Dahlke and assistant manager Jeff Miller will be operating out of their new location beginning July 1.
"It will work,'' Dahlke said of the move. He admits that he is concerned about getting the public acquainted with the new location. The DNR's wildlife office has been a part of Willmar since sometime in the 1950's. It was originally located on Litchfield Avenue in the former Piggly Wiggly building, today the home for the Heartland Community Church.
A Governor's order to reduce lease costs by 10 percent led to moving the Willmar wildlife office. The Willmar office's lease expired at the end of June.
The Highway 71 location has been a visible and convenient location for the public. "All the time,'' Miller said when asked how often people stop by the office with questions, to report problems or seek help. Many people tie-in their trips to town for business or errands with stops at the office.
Dahlke and Miller said the public contact is very important to their work. It helps keep them on top of everything from predation issues to potential abuse of wildlife management or other lands. Also, the anecdotal reports from hunters and others who often drop-in help provide a very good picture of how game and other wildlife in the area are managing, they said.
The Sibley Park location is 12 miles north from the Willmar office on Highway 71.
The new location is on the northern end of the region the staff serves, meaning more travel time for the public. The two wildlife workers estimate that the new location could add the equivalent of about three weeks more in travel time for their field work each year.
The two serve the counties of Kandiyohi, Chippewa and Meeker. Dahlke also has supervisory responsibilities for staff serving Renville, Redwood and Brown counties.
It's not known yet what if any overall savings will result by the move. Dahlke said they do not know how current lease costs will compare to the costs for maintaining the house being refurbished for office use at the park, or what the added travel costs will total.
Dahlke said the most important thing is that that people continue to feel free to visit the wildlife office or contact them by telephone. The new office number is 320-354-2154. Calls to the Willmar office number will be automatically forwarded to the new office for a few months, he added. People do not need a park sticker to visit the wildlife office, he added.
The Willmar DNR office was once a base for as many as six employees. The shallow lakes specialist position was lost due to an earlier round of budget reductions. There is no longer funding for summer interns at the office.
The loss of the forestry position means that people who need burning permits, have questions about disease and forest management issues, or participating in programs such as the Sustainable Forest Incentive Act will need to seek help from other DNR offices. Delaney said burning permits will be handled by Tom Romaine with the DNR's office in New Ulm.
Willmar area residents should contact the forestry office in Little Falls for most other forestry-related matters. The Willmar forestry office had served the counties of Meeker, McLeod, Renville, Swift, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Big Stone, Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine. Delaney and the forestry specialists in Mankato and New Ulm previously served 23 southern counties.