By Per Peterson
Photo by Per Peterson
Bob Meyer is ending his 40-plus-year run as area wildlife manager with the Department of Natural Resources. “I can’t say that I have ever not enjoyed the job,” he said, “otherwise I wouldn’t have been here this long.”
What might seem like nothing more than a few birds to some means the world to Bob Meyer. To him, they're a product of his passion and desire to improve habitat in southwest Minnesota.
Meyer, who is retiring from his position as Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager in Marshall after more than 40 years, was a key player in the 1999 restoration of the 357-acre Black Rush Lake outside of Marshall. The project turned a challenged piece of farmland and wetland that had seen better days into a haven for waterfowl - in particular, a couple of trumpeter swans that made it their new home.
When Meyer looks back on his time in Marshall, he holds projects like that dear.
At the time, the DNR wasn't in a position financially to purchase the land, so Meyer took it upon himself to contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which through the sale of Federal Duck Stamps, bought and restored a wetland area that, although it had been drained after decades of tiling, had habitat potential.
In all, 14 agencies partnered on the project, and today, the lake, through the use of water control structures, maintains a depth of between 2 to 3 feet and has seen the return of emergent vegetation that creates ideal conditions for a waterfowl production area.
"It would freeze out early because it was low, it would be flooded in the spring, so it was always late with planting and the person who owned almost all of it got tired of fighting it," Meyer said. "It's nice to see a project like that come to pass. What really was the icing on the cake is the last three years there have been a pair of trumpeter swans that have nested there and raised little ones. It gives me a lot of satisfaction seeing something like that. Opportunities like that don't come along too often."
Neither do employees like Meyer.
He was walking the fields in Marshall before many of today's hunters were even born, and his arrival in Marshall pre-dates many of today's well-known outdoors groups, conservation programs and outdoor funding mechanisms. After spending six months in forestry working out of Cloquet, Lake City and Tower, Meyer transferred to the game and fish division and landed in Marshall in January 1972.
The Sumner, Iowa, native has been witness to numerous changes throughout his four decades of work, many involving technology upgrades in the office.
But Meyer is not really an office guy, and he'd rather talk about changes he has seen in the places that mean so much to him - the outdoors, where phones don't ring (at least not before cell phones became part of everyone's wardrobe) and the only mouse you'll come across are field mice. From swans and turkeys to Canada geese and eagles, Meyer has been witness to a blossoming of the ecological culture in the area that the younger generation may not be able to appreciate as much.
"When I came in '72, the year before was the first year that anybody knew of a Canada goose nest in this area," he said. "I saw one on a nest in '72, and if you saw one it was just like seeing an eagle or something. Eagles, too, there are at least two or three nests in every county now, where before they were only up north. There have been a lot of federal conservation program-type changes; CRP was a big thing from the '80s right up until now, and when I started there was no Pheasant Stamp, there was no state Duck Stamp, so funding was tight. Ducks Unlimited was in existence but there was no Pheasants Forever."
DNR Regional Wildlife Manager Ken Varland has been Meyer's supervisor since 1988 and said Meyer has a number of attributes that will be sorely missed by the DNR. Meyer's passion for the outdoors, and wetland resources in particular, is obvious through his service and stewardship in the southwest Minnesota region with projects like Black Rush Lake, Varland said.
"He's got some really nice wetland complexes out there," said Varland. "He's done a lot to make sure wetlands are the best they can be and to help restore wetlands. He is also very innovative, always thinking. He never stopped trying to find ways to get things done."
Varland said because there are so many local Wildlife Management Areas and because Meyer's region lies within the Prairie Couteau, the southwest Minnesota region is dotted with grassland and wetland complexes, which means having a reliable, knowledgeable and passionate person overseeing them is vital.
Meyer, Varland said, has been involved in a number of land acquisitions that has made the area, in the DNR's eyes, an important part of the state when it comes to public land and how it's utilized."
Varland said the DNR will post an advertisement for Meyer's replacement after gaining approval to do so, perhaps by the first of the year. In the meantime, it will be shorthanded, as the state's license fee increase won't kick in until March.
The increase was approved in bipartisan fashion by the state Legislature during the 2012 session and was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton. It was a move strongly supported by outdoors groups, and hunters and anglers from across the state.
The increase, which will be the first in 12 years, will help pay for staff in field offices among other things through the DNR's Game and Fish Fund, which is dependent on license sale revenue.
"We still have to watch our money very close," said Varland. "We can't fill the position right away because of financial constraints, but we will fill it as soon as we can."
Meyer called the license fee increase a "long time coming."
Meyer said a decline in funding has had an effect on the DNR, both in regards to money for projects and fewer personnel in the field. He said the Marshall office has been able to withstand funding cuts, thanks mostly to Lessard-Sams or Outdoor Heritage monies. Those funds have also allowed Meyer and local staff to work on projects they otherwise might not have been able to pursue.
Meyer and his wife Lucy are planning a move to Wisconsin soon to be closer to their daughter and her family, who live in Strum, just south of Eau Claire.
"She's been after us to move over there to be closer to her and our grandson," he said. "I'll miss these areas where we planted prairie grass and especially the wetland areas. I've always been interested in ducks and wetlands; there were very few where I came from in Iowa and when I got here I thought there were so many."
Meyer didn't like the fact that he found himself sitting at his desk more and more as the years went on. He said bureaucracy has ways of monopolizing his time more often now compared to decades ago.
"I can't say that I have ever not enjoyed the job, otherwise I wouldn't have been here this long," he said. "But it always seems like there's more paperwork and more red tape and you end up sitting at your desk more. Things take a lot of time because there are so many different agencies involved and everybody has to review things and give input on it."
A coffee party for Meyer is taking place from 1-4 p.m. Monday at the Marshall DNR office on East Lyon Street.