Podcast Ep. 006: MN DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, “Defender Of The Land”
In this sixth episode of the Modern Carnivore Podcast I sit down with Tom Landwehr who is the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This is a position that is appointed by the Governor of Minnesota. Tom has been in this position for eight years, overseeing the management of wildlife and habitat across the state. I caught up with the Commissioner at the 2017 Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener to talk about the culture of deer camp and the work his agency does in the state of Minnesota. In early 2019 he is ending his tour of duty as the Commissioner, so while I’m very delayed in getting this post out I felt it was important to share this conversation with a true conservation leader.
Tom Landwehr, Commissioner of the MN DNR and Defender of the Land is on the Modern Carnivore Podcast
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Tom Landwehr, Commissioner of the MN DNR and Defender of the Land is on the Modern Carnivore Podcast
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Transcript Of Podcast
Welcome to the Modern Carnivore Podcast, a guide for those interested in hearing more about hunting, fishing, and other paths to eating more responsibly. Now, here’s your host, Mark Norquist.
Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of the Modern Carnivore podcast. Today I’m joined by Tom Landwehr and this is actually a recording from back in 2017 at the Minnesota Governor’s deer hunting opener event, and this is an event that’s gone on for many years here in Minnesota and I think is a great reflection of the importance of deer camp culture and the deer hunting season to our state, that the Governor would put an event like this together. Commissioner Landwehr is now ending his tour here as the as the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources in early 2019, and so I thought it was appropriate to get this podcast recording out as the commissioner of the DNR. He is appointed by the governor to really enforce hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation laws, and also manage much of the public land that exists within the state of Minnesota. There are also federal and county lands, but they’re much of it is managed by the state, which is then managed by this organization, the Department of Natural Resources for both recreation as well as industry like timber and mining. They also deal with threats to the land and water like invasive species in diseases like chronic wasting disease, that’s starting to affect the deer herd in different areas of the country. Stepping back for a moment, if you look at the North American model for conservation, one of the tenants of it calls for scientific management of wildlife and habitats and state agencies are a big part of that management model. In Minnesota it’s called the department of natural resources or the DNR. In other states it’s called game and fish or the department of fish and wildlife or the department of fish, wildlife and parks. A lot of different names, but they all in essence to do the same thing, which is managing the habitat and the wildlife for the future. So if you’re new to hunting and fishing, make sure you familiarize yourself with all that the agency within your state does. They’ve often got a lot of great resources such as details, obviously on game laws, but also things like maps with access to public lands and along those lines. Get to know your, your conservation officer or “CO” as, as they’re referred to often, uh, in the areas where you want to hunt and fish and they can be a great resource for you. So I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation with Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
Okay, we are here with Commissioner Tom Landwehr of the Minnesota DNR. Thank you for joining me this morning. It’s a pleasure to be here. Absolutely. So we are actually at Timberlake Lodge here in northern Minnesota, uh, kicking off the 2017 Minnesota deer hunting opener with, uh, the governor yourself, uh, and a whole list of dignitaries and a local hunters from all corners of the state. I even met people from, uh, as far away as Washington state last night at the dinner. So, um, so what, what’s with the tradition of, of deer camp here in Minnesota.
Well, and so we are in grand rapids to be a little more specific, which is got it’s byline grand rapids. It’s in your nature. This is a town that embraces outdoor activities, you know, including hunting and fishing. Were on the doorstep, so the Chippewa National Forest, one of the favorite places of Minnesotans to go and camp and recreate, but it’s the opener. The deer opener is a big day in Minnesota. There are 500,000 deer hunters in the state of Minnesota and 450,000 of them give or take will be out on Saturday morning on their deer stand, doing their drives, a whatever, however they choose to hunt in Minnesota and we know from surveys that 25 percent of those people hunt exclusively on public lands and we’re very fortunate in have that in Minnesota. I tell people all the time that we’ve got, you know, at least three things that make deer hunting really exceptional in Minnesota. One is we’ve got a very good dear for great. Now we’ve had two years of increasing deer numbers. We have a snow on the ground which makes it easier to attract here. Obviously had seed here and we have excess that is free to millions and millions of acres of public lands that we have really got a all of the ingredients. Just an exceptional a deer season in Minnesota.
So who, who owns these public lands? Well, and that’s a really good subtle point. We talk about public lands, but they are your lands that are my lands, they are our lands. These are lands that belonged to the public, which is what we call them public lands, but they are, they are owned by the state of Minnesota for the benefit of the people that sit them and so on. I remember when I was young, um, first stumbling across Carlos Avery. I was, grew up in the cities and they lived in the cities, but it was a hunters and anglers.
I remember stumbling across Carlos Avery Wildlife Management or some 25,000 acres just north of the twin cities. And coming into this piece of ground is huge piece of ground, right? That’s like 40 square miles and thinking I can hunt here now. I could have like gun out. I can be walking along with a shotgun anywhere I want. I could shoot a pheasant or a duck. I forgot up. I thought this has gotta be illegal. It’s be illegal in the city. You just don’t do this. And here we were 20 minutes from the city. It’s been, it’s, and it is still there today, Carlos, or do wealth management are still an extraordinarily popular place for people to hunt
To me that is a, that is something that’s, it’s just such a quintessential American experience from the standpoint of, uh, the ability and the freedom to go do that Uh, and you know, on, on tons of lands, tons of opportunities.
So, Commissioner, if you could talk about what’s the difference from either a hunter experience or from a legal perspective on county versus state versus federal? Because there’s a lot of focus with public lands right now on the federal. Uh, but in Minnesota, you know, where I hunt, where I deer hunt, um, is, is nearly all county and state. That’s what I’m usually on. So what’s the difference?
You know, I think we’re, we’re very lucky in Minnesota and that the different levels of government tend to have comparable rules about how to use the land. So, um, you know, I think most once upon a time you could build a permanent stand in Minnesota on federal land, on state land and Coney Atlanta permanent stay. Of course you’d bring the two by fours out, you’re bringing along nails, pounded it into a tree and it stays there. And, and, uh, all levels of government has gotten away from that. And the reason is because those forests are still managed for timber. So, uh, it’s not a, you can’t do as a logger or you can’t as a mill have timber that’s got nails in it. And so, uh, just even recently the federal government has been going to the state as been going to. This county is going as a use of portable stands only. So you bring it in, you bring it out. It doesn’t have nails in a tree. But other than that, you know, I think almost all of those lands have comparable laws. You only think, I think, well, what am I going to do as a hunter? Well, the one thing I might do, it’s somewhat intrusive if you will, would be to put up a stand, but if you’re using a portable, uh, the, the, the rules are comparable all the way across. You can go in with a portable, you put it up, you can leave it overnight on state forest land, federal land, a, not even a wildlife management area, but you can state a state forest county unfortunately and so on. But then it’s just common sense. You know, I don’t leave a bunch of garbage there. I don’t crossover on a private land. I don’t drive where I shouldn’t be driving. So the good thing is that the rules are pretty comparable across all three types of land.
And so, so you can leave a stand overnight on state. Does county in Minnesota, is that vary or is that consistent across all the counties?
I think there is something like eight counties that own that have land under management and it’s for the most part in Minnesota. This is more detail than you need, but it’s county texts for Finland, so tracks of land that had gone texts forfeit to state technically owns it, the county managers and they’ll, they’ll typically manage for timber products or for recreation. And so here we are in Itasca county is a bunch of land and a test county that is owned by the state, managed by the county and are open to public access.
So, how much…Do you know off the top of your head (how much) public land (there is) in Minnesota specifically?…how much we have?
It is something approaching 12 million acres.
And a significant portion of that, 8 million acres give or take, is actually owned by the state of Minnesota, which means you and me, right? It’s owned based in Minnesota. About two and a half million of that is, is County tax forfeit. The remainder is owned by the state, managed by the dnr, but then you know, the people, and again, people don’t necessarily need to differentiate who is administering wetlands, but we have a bunch of federal land. So here we are on the back door of Chippewa National Forest, right, beautiful, beautiful piece of land, you know, with a big lakes when leach and so on. But then we’ve got the Superior (National Forest) and you’re well familiar with Superior. It’s got the Boundary Waters (Canoe Area Wilderness). It’s got all of the Arrowhead of Minnesota. We’ve got two, 3 million acres of national forest and then we’ve got a federal Waterfowl Production Areas and National Wildlife Refuges on the western part of the state. So we are just extraordinarily fortunate to have this diverse mixture of public lands that are open access for anybody who wants to use them for birdwatching or hiking or hunting or fishing.
You know, I, I was recently doing a hunt out west in antelope hunt out west and it was my first experience with the patchwork of public versus private lands out there. And we don’t really have that problem here in Minnesota. Do we? I mean our, most of our, you know, we have obviously private versus public, but it’s not, it’s, it doesn’t appear to me to be that type of patchwork that becomes challenging. But how does a new hunter know, where’s public and where is private?
Yeah. Well, and you know, in fact, in this part of the state and the forest in Minnesota, we actually do have quite a patchwork and it’s, and it’s kind of interesting when you look at a plat book because you will have a, the section is owned by the state of Minnesota administered by DNR. You have this part that’s owned by the state of Minnesota, owned by a managed by the county of this section that’s owned by the federal government managed by the Forest Service. We do have very much of a patchwork, but it is all still public. Right? So you can still cross those lines I think. And the other thing is we have a trespass law in Minnesota that says you cannot walk past a sign that says no trespassing, but if forest land is unposted, a Minnesota law allows you to walk onto that land. And so on. In northern Minnesota, we have a lot of load, I would call industrial forest. So Blandin owns land in Potlatch owns land owns land. Thousands, hundreds of thousands of acres. And that is historically been, uh, treated as public land. That is, the, is private legal notice. Private companies have allowed people to just walk into those lines of hunter’s land. So when you’re in northern Minnesota, if you see a don’t trespass sign, it’s typically a small owner that owns that. If you don’t see a sign there, technically you can, you can go in there and hunt.
So, we were just a couple weeks ago recording a podcast with a land tawny who is the CEO and President of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. And your last name is Landwehr. I believe your forestry division head, his first name is Forrest. So I’m just wondering, do you need to have land or forest in your name to be working in this field?
You know, I, I don’t think it’s a requirement. I have not seen that in the position description anywhere. But I think in my own case, my dad always used to say, you know, it’s a German name Landwehr. Obviously he. Oh, she’s a defender of the land. Yeah. And I think it’s more from the terms of militia. I think that, you know, if you’re actually in Germany, it’s sort of the name of the militia, but I always took that to heart. Well that’s my job is defending the land. Yeah. So tell us a little bit about your background. You are, you are that the commissioner of the Department of natural resources appointed by the governor of the state of Minnesota. Um, how do you get, how do you get there? Where did you start? You have to be really bad and you have to really, you know, uh, deserve a place, a special place in the Netherlands in order to get this job.
It’s punishment for what I did in my youth, what I’m convinced. But. Well, I, uh, I grew up in the cities and uh, I’ve always had an interest in hunting and fishing and uh, Kinda floundered through my first years of college until I realized that there was actually a program at the University of Minnesota in fish and wildlife management. And I thought, well, that would be outstanding if I could get a degree in hunting and fishing. And so I started in the wildlife management program at the university, uh, you know, went through, got my undergraduate, got a graduate degree, started working with dnr back in the eighties as a wildlife biologist and I started working on private lands, a counseling land owners how to improve their land for pheasants in particular. Ultimately became a wildlife manager where I worked on public lands and always in the southern part of the state.
So it was always a grasslands. I’ve always had an affinity for birds, pheasants and ducks a. So really got to work, uh, you know, in some really nice places in Minnesota doing wetland management too. Aggressive management, a promoted Indian are ultimately got a job with ducks unlimited, a move to ducks unlimited and help them do their conservation programs in Minnesota and Iowa. I did that for five years. And then I took a job with the nature conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota doing the same thing, managing, you know, conservative and these large landscapes for wildlife and managing those to produce maximum a while they’d benefit one at. And at that point the committee and the governor appointed me as commissioner and that was what, how long ago was that? A 2011. Governor Dayton came into office in 2011. January sixth, 2011. The governor appointed me.
Okay. So what’s your…You, I think are the classic generalist outdoorsmen from the standpoint of your personal perspective. I think a lot of people nowadays may want to specialize the big game out west Chester upland hunter. I myself am a generalist. I don’t consider myself a focused on any one specific one, but I think people still have their preferences. What are your favorite things to do? You know?
And, and I totally am a generalist. I mean, I think when, when I looked back in my younger years, I was, I considered myself a duck hunter. And that’s what I did. I hunted ducks, I looked down my nose at deer hunters. I looked down my nose at pheasant hunters. It’s like duck hunting is the pure Minnesota thing, right? Well, as, as I have gotten older, I’ve realized that, you know, why would I limit myself to one thing? Because we have so much opportunity for so many things here and when duck hunting is bed, I’ll go pheasant hunting. Pheasant hunting is no good to go deer hunting, you know, and you’re good to go fishing. And so we are so fortunate in Minnesota, have the opportunity to do all of those things and with each change of the season and another opportunity presents itself. So I find that being a generalist, well I can’t be, you know, I can’t be the top notch angler. I can’t be the top notch deer hunter. Like I am a generalist in by definition than I am not specializing any of those. I still have a great time being out every season that we have in Minnesota
I do too. It’s that, that to me is, that is the beauty of, of being that way is you literally. My, my, uh, my mom used to joke that my dad, when they got married, said, you know, don’t worry, it’s just, it’s a hunt. But in the fall, and she soon realized that that fall bird hunting went into deer hunting and deer hunting went into early ice fishing season. I went into
Well fall for restarts in liberty, I go pick wild rice, right, pick wild rice and, and it’s hunting and gathering, pick wild rice on labor day and shortly thereafter the small game season opens and shortly after the Hetero, the, the duck season opens and then the pheasant season, then the deer season and know the festive season goes till the end of the year, January one, January one comes and goes and it’s the saddest day of the year because I cleaned the guns and put them away. I’m always fixing them next day, you know, it’s like, Hallelujah.
Exactly. Always, always something to do, which reminds me, I do want to have a. we’ll have to have you on again sometime to talk about wild rice because, uh, I just, I love it. And uh, whenever we have a Modern Carnivore experience event going on, I’ll, I’ll serve for breakfast, I’ll do the mahnomin porridge and people love.
People love that thing about wild rice is we sell about 2000 licenses. You, you have to have a license to pick wild rice, but would your $26 license, you can go out and you can pick wild rice for the whole season, which might be two weeks in northern Minnesota. Yeah, you can get hundreds and hundreds of pounds of water isn’t always painful and there’s bugs that will get you and stuff that gets in your sleeves and so on, but but you get a phenomenal product at the end of it. It’s, it’s, it’s a wonderful thing and when you pair it with venison or with a duck pancakes, I make pancakes at home, throwing some cranberries, throwing some pecans. It’s just phenomenal. It is.
It’s it. It is wonderful. It’s a great tradition in going back. Just the whole history of it. I love it. And to that, to that point, you know, thinking about deer hunting in Minnesota in deer camp, what is, I think I maybe asked earlier, I forget if we touched on, but what is behind the whole deer camp tradition and the speakers talked about it last night at the dinner a little bit, but is it, is it something in your mind that is unique to Minnesota? Just the way we do it. And what would you say defines what deer camp is about?
You know, so I’ve never hunted deer outside Minnesota. So what, what I know about the uniqueness of deer camp is what other people tell me who hunt and other parts of the country and they told me that deer camp is a very unique upper midwest tradition, so I think it’s not. I think you’ll find it in Wisconsin perhaps in Michigan as well. And what I think is the. When I think about that, what I think is the foundation of it is that it’s a public lands, public lands. So we have places you don’t have to own land, you just have to have a tent or a camper or you could have a cabin with no land and then hunting them public. And so I think it is a function of the fact that a lot of our citizens live in the twin cities. A lot of them hunt. They have traditionally gone north to hunt and so they have to have a place to stay, so they have put up a tent or they have a cabin or they have an rv and I, and I think it’s that sort of almost a migration between the twin cities and the deer country that has created this culture of a deer camp and it is, I think it was one of the most phenomenal parts about deer hunting, frank, is that this tradition of deer camp where you go up and you get together with people that you want maybe only see once a year and they are your best friends. Even if you only see them once a year and they have this shared narrative about hunting and they had this shared experience about being in the woods at dawn and it’s just a. it’s extraordinarily rich tradition. I think. Especially for guys, you know, the art, we don’t bond around, you know, this tv show in the morning. You know, we bond around these experiences, especially as outdoor. Yeah. So I think, I think the fact that it gives us that opportunity, I think is what helps keep deer camp alive.
You know, it. Um, you really bring it. You bring up an interesting point that I hadn’t thought of before and people who listen to this podcast know that we talk about public land slot. I’m wearing my public lands, um, and it continues to come up in the dialogue consistently. Some people are maybe tired of it, but I like what you just said about that being a foundational element of deer camp because what it, what it means is, is people, you know, here in this state, half a million people know who the majority of them probably don’t have land that they owned a haunt on. Make that migration north, south east or west and meet up with friends. Like you said, that maybe they only see once a year. And, and I’m exactly like that. I’ve been at my family deer camp hunting, hunting deer for 35 years straight. And uh, and it is, it’s that some of the times when maybe relatives, I’m the only time of the year. I see them, what we do, we have that, we have that connection with the bonding and at, over over the fire and telling the stories and it’s fun whether the old guys are, the young guys are telling the story about one that got away or, or, or, or one that they just got. And
It is sort of the great equalizer. I mean anybody, you know, the lunchbox guy doesn’t, you know, it paying off a mortgage on his host, doesn’t have any spirit change, can still go to northern Minnesota and still have a phenomenal experience. You know, I just bought a, a, a wall tent this year. Are you dead or for hunting purposes? We use duck hunting and Canada, but it’s one of those things when you go in northern Minnesota, people will set up a wall tent for weeks. Then they’ll go grouse hunting, deer go deer hunting. They’ll go duck hunting or base camp and uh, and, and you can do that. Yeah. Even if all you can afford your mortgage on your house, you could still go to your place up in northern Minnesota and it is your place because people respect each other. You got a tent there I’m going to go half a mile away, a mile away, and I’m gonna set up my tent. But, you know, I’m a, the end of the season. We’ve talked about pheasant hunting earlier. Uh, go through the new year. Uh, I get together with a group of guys. We do a kind of a blog. It’s combined public and private land that we hunt on. I see these guys once a year and that’s it. But these guys who I’ve gotten to know over five or six or eight years of, of hunting there, they’re like friends or like long lost friends. We’d get together once a year. We share stories, but we talked about all of our health problems, right? And, uh, and it’s, it’s just, it’s just a great experience knowing that I have this circle of friends who share this common interest, common love of going out and hunting pheasants.
Right? Right. Exactly. So if somebody wanted to, somebody who hasn’t, who has a deer on it before they want to start their own deer camp, what would you, what would you recommend?
You know, first off, I will say it is the easiest thing you can imagine. I’m used to just primarily be a bowhunter, but when my kids came along, that’s. Bowhunting is a very solitary thing. It’s not a deer camp experience in my, in my, uh, history. Uh, when my kids came along, I said to myself, I want my kids to know deer camp. And so we started firearms hunting when my son who’s now 19 son came along. And so, uh, we just went up to the Chippewa. We took our summer tent, which actually has a screen rough with a, with a, with a flyover, right? So it is not at all suited for November, but that’s what we use. We went up, we set up a tent in the Chippewa national forest. We got the aerial photos, you know, we found out where we want to go hunt. We brought our portable stands out and we just went and hunted. It is, it is like falling off a log, you just find a corner, you pitch your tent and you had gotten your hunt.
I love, you know, it’s, it’s interesting because I’m seeing several people have been talking about that over the last or the last couple of days about the simplicity of it. And um, I used to think that that it would be sort of the, the final step in people’s journey to, to start hunting and get outdoors. And what’s interesting is as I’ve continued to, to, to do this more and more over the last seven, eight years and realizing that it actually is where people are starting a lot of times and I think there’s an attraction to it and I think there is a simplicity to it, like you said, which is, you know, versus if you’re, if you’re going to go duck hunting and you got to get a big spread of decoys.
Oh yeah, yeah. Oh, you use a gun whether your shotgun was and assault or your rifle with the bullet in the north. It’s, it is simple. It is. It requires less equipment than virtually anything else. Pheasant hunting, you got to have a dog or duck hunting decoys in a boat, you know, it is a grouse hunting was comparable. Perhaps, you know, all you need is a gun and a piece of land.
Yup. Yup. No, exactly. Um, so you, I know are doing a lot of interviews this morning and people are tugging on your sleeve. Um, what, you know, you know, I want to talk about about public waters a bit just because I think you’ve done a lot here to protect them. I’m just real quick. What, what, what are you in the Governor doing relative to waters here?
You know, Minnesota is an interesting place because west of us we have what we call western water law and that is the water belongs to whoever owns the land underneath eastern water law says the water belongs to the public and if you can get access to it, you can go anywhere you want on it. So Minnesota is one of those states. So if you can get access to a body of water, you can go anywhere on the surface that water. So we’re very fortunate in that regard. And we have a long tradition going back, decades were dnr acquires accesses, so we call them public water access, right to the boat ramps, everybody knows of and by virtue of just having that little bitty access on a piece of water, the whole water body opens up. Just a phenomenal legacy is phenomenal heritage. We have Minnesota, the state of Minnesota owns 1500 public water access is so 1500 bodies of water you can go onto by virtue of his legal access and fish or hunt or you know, Waterski, whatever you want to do. But in addition to that, there are another 1500 that are owned by other units of government, whether it’s the federal government on the spirit national forest or it’s Chippewa national forest or the county or a city. So there are 3000 public water access instead of Minnesota. It opened up all of that public water for people to use. And then there were an additional 3000. Private access is on that water. So you know, we often talk about and you mentioned and you’re absolutely right, we talk about public lands. We failed to mention that we have millions of acres of public water in Minnesota as well. Right? Right. Now it’s, it’s a wonderful thing. We get such a, a, a, a wealth of have that resource here in this every person’s backyard. Right. So what’s your best hunting story you told one last night at dinner with just the Kitty, kitty cat. Well, I’ll tell it again because it’s a great story. We, uh, on opening weekend we hung out of a buddy George’s place and George has got a couple of kitties cat. A couple years ago he had a kitty, a little bitty black kitty, I don’t know, maybe eight inches long. And when I went out in the morning to go to my stand, this little kid, he got out and it’s like, okay, well let’s find itself. It’s a barn cat. It’ll just walk around all the darn thing followed me a half mile out to my tree stand. And when I climb up with a tree that darn think stay there and me, our it said at the bottom of standing me out. And I thought, well, this is not helping my deer hunting. Also, I went down and picked it up, put it in a stand and that thing sat there the whole day at my feet on a tree stand, curled up in a corner ultimately, you know, try to curl up on my feet and everything and would not leave. And I finally, you know, at the end of the day I did not even see a deer. I suspect I smelled like a cat and when I went back to the farm, the cat came along with me. So the day a 100 with the kitty cat. That is a first. I don’t know anybody who’s ever hunted with a cat before. Well Commissioner, thanks so much for spending time with us this morning. Really appreciate it. My pleasure, mark. Thank you for having me. And good luck and be safe. Yeah, you too. Thanks.
So thanks for joining me on today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. And just a reminder, make sure you check out your state’s agency, whether it’s the department of natural resources game and fish or what have you. Check out their website and get to know your local conservation officer who is often times referred to as a seal. They can be a wealth of knowledge and a great resource on your journey into the outdoors.
Thanks for listening to the Modern Carnivore podcast. You can continue the journey by going to modcarn.com.
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