In one of the most visible examples, the DNR’s 163 park ranger positions will no longer be certified law enforcement officers with seldom-used badges and guns, because their main jobs are assisting and directing park users, said state parks and recreation bureau director Ben Bergey.
Conservation wardens from the DNR bureau of law enforcement will be deployed when arrest powers are needed in parks, Bergey said. The change will ensure better law enforcement training and performance, Bergey said.
The warden corps will be bolstered by 33 positions currently in parks, forestry and facilities management bureaus, bringing authorized strength in the law enforcement bureau to 230. The wardens already enforce laws governing activities such as hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and illegal dumping.
Meanwhile, the DNR forestry division will focus on overseeing timber cutting to ensure land and water aren’t damaged. It will no longer manage northern campgrounds and recreation at sites like the Northern Highlands-American Legion State Forest. Forestry will transfer 33 positions to a renamed parks and recreation management bureau, which will manage camping statewide, and maintenance of parking lots, signs and gates at all DNR properties. That will free up wildlife biologists who manage grassland properties to create plans the DNR can use in a statewide review of where resources are best spent, said Mark Aquino, director of business support and science.
In another change, DNR firefighters will help create more in-depth plans for controlled burns that improve wildlife habitat, said deputy secretary Kurt Thiede.