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Great Lakes Article:

Minnesota hiring freeze could halt fisheries projects, fieldwork

Duluth News Tribune

"If you have the project money but not the labor, you're in trouble.''
DENNIS ANDERSON, DNR regional fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids

Some fisheries projects and fieldwork may have to be curtailed in Northeastern Minnesota if a state agency ban on hiring and contracts remains in effect.

Currently, Minnesota state agencies cannot hire seasonal or permanent employees and cannot contract with private parties because of budget cutbacks. That restriction is hitting some Department of Natural Resources area fisheries offices hard.

Deserae Hendrickson, the DNR's area fisheries supervisor at French River, said she will have to cut back annual lake surveys by one-third this summer if the hiring ban remains in place. She said her office had planned to conduct full lake surveys or more specific surveys on 26 lakes this summer. The surveys are done every few years to determine the health of a lake's fish populations.

"There's going to be important work that doesn't get done,'' said Dennis Anderson, DNR regional fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids.

DNR fisheries offices perform two basic kinds of research -- ongoing annual surveys of lakes and streams, and special research projects. The annual surveys are conducted with regular staff, but many research projects require hiring seasonal or temporary help.

The DNR is funded primarily by money from fishing and hunting licenses -- so-called dedicated funds. Other money comes to the state from excise taxes anglers and hunters pay on fishing and hunting equipment.

In some cases, the department has money for special projects but cannot hire the people it needs to conduct them.

"If you have the project money but not the labor, you're in trouble,'' Anderson said.

That could be the case for Don Schreiner, who supervises the DNR's Lake Superior area fisheries office at French River. He may have to cut by 25 to 30 percent this summer the number of sampling sites in a juvenile lake trout survey he takes each summer, he said.

"We have four full-time personnel, including myself,'' Schreiner said. "We depend heavily on seasonal and student workers to assist with our summer field surveys.''

Some fully staffed area fisheries offices in Northeastern Minnesota will be able to do their planned surveys this summer.

"We're sitting OK, I think,'' said Chris Kavanaugh, DNR area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids. "We're lucky in that we don't have any vacancies.''

The DNR applied for and was granted an exemption to hire temporary workers to help with the spring walleye egg-taking and hatchery work necessary for stocking efforts, Kavanaugh said.

The French River area fisheries office is already down one professional staffperson, Hendrickson said. And longtime assistant area fisheries supervisor Don Schliep will retire effective Friday.

"We'll have two of our three professional people gone in our office,'' Hendrickson said. That leaves her without the crew leaders necessary to supervise fieldwork, and it also will affect people seeking information from her office.

"What suffers is our coordination with other agencies and other groups and our responses to the public,'' she said. "That will all get slower. It will have the potential to impact a lot of people.''

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