ESCANABA - One of the best work lessons I have ever learned is how to re-assess what has been done. The "one step forward and two steps back" approach is a fundamental applicable in just about any form of business and service performed.
I believe the same philosophy is in place to help carry the newly formed Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality (MDNRE) as it begins to provide services under a new structure.
The 41 page Executive Summary, produced by project Transition Coordinator Bruce W. Rasher, provides a detailed account of what should occur within MDNRE, a forecast on essential future changes and a system to go back to see they are accomplished and then evaluated as to the success or failure of each change.
It is important to note how Rasher did listen to all the stake holders who provided input during his investigative phase of the plan. Many of the long term concerns I recall hearing in the one meeting held in the UP were mentioned in the plan.
To start out, the 22 divisions in place from the DNR/DEQ were cut to 14, and then formed into three administrations or units - Resource management, Stewardship and Environmental Protection.
Upper administrative functions will be reconfigured under the responsibility of the chief administrative officer, the chief of media and communications, the chief of marketing, education and technology, and the chief of science, policy, legislative and regulatory office.
One of the major complaints I've heard through the years is how we, the UP, don't seem to gain the attention and detail to decision making needed up here. It has always been speculated that no one heard our concerns in Lansing.
The state will now be broken down to four regions, each with their own regional director, and will be responsible for department planning, coordination, and communications across each region.
However, there won't be a significant change in philosophy as ecosystem health will continue to be the basis of all resources management.
The (regional) concept is designed to provide a quicker response to new opportunities and challenges. These regions will roughly correspond to the four major water basins represented in Michigan - Lakes Michigan, Huron, Superior and Erie - as well as the UP.
The Citizens' Advisory Councils will stay on as an integral part of each region.
It should be evident the MDNRE will deal with a lot more than hunting and fishing, even though the segment of users contributes approximately $3.5 billion annually to the state's economy.
All combined, the natural resources of Michigan contribute approximately $38.4 billion annual revenue to the state, putting them a solid third behind Michigan agribusiness ($71.3 billion) and Michigan manufacturing, still number one ($76.3 billion).
To address MDNRE business at a regional level, Rasher proposed a matrix organization based on natural systems rather than on geographical boundaries. The intent is to have the system less bureaucratic, hierarchical, slow moving and inflexible.
One concern related to the reorganization is that 30 percent of staffing, much of whom are local within each region, will become eligible for retirement within the next five years.
While attrition will serve to again reflect a reduced operating cost within the new MDNRE, it will be at a significant cost of institutional knowledge held by these same field personnel. Rasher believes that "the department must give serious thought to key replacement and succession planning."
Transparency has always been an issue held by the general public. The most recent example of concern was the effort of the MDNR to increase the hunting license fee in 2008. The campaign failed once it became evident that a fund balance of $10 million was still present in the game and fish fund.
Many thought it to be an intentional attempt by the department to hide the fact, some believing it was secretly held from the public.
In reality, the fund was present and publicly reported quarterly since 2000, when the policy was established. The department took it for granted that everyone understood its presence and need, but later admitted the account was poorly communicated to the public.
To ensure MDNRE funds are being used properly, they will produce an annual report that not only highlights accomplishments but also includes audited financial statements and identifies sources and uses of revenue.
MDNRE regional directors will also make the annual report available to the CACs.
More details on the transition and new structure of MDNRE will be provided in future reports. To review the 41 page document, go to MDNRE web-site, www.michigan.gov/dnr.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.