Wow, that didn’t take long. We no sooner digested the content of a Michigan Department of Natural Resources email on Friday afternoon announcing a new position for Director Stokes elsewhere within the Snyder Administration, then it was followed Monday by the announcement that Keith Creagh has been appointed as its new Director.
Before we begin recklessly speculating on the possible merits or pitfalls of the choice, it is appropriate to thank and recognize Mr. Stokes for his long career as a dedicated public servant, the bulk of which has been with the MDNR. Given the extensive list of more critical issues to be dealt with as a part of Governor Snyder’s Reinventing Michigan campaign, as MDNR Director, Rodney Stokes was a solid choice which allowed for near-term stability and also provided someone who was committed to creating a more “user friendly” agency.
Unfortunately, what the then-Director Stokes likely did not realize was that he would soon be directly in the cross-hairs of a comprehensive legislative initiative brought forward by a handful of elected officials who seek to “Reinvent the DNR” in accordance with their own vision for the agency. With this political tsunami headed for a Department which was receiving only limited outside support against this aggressive and multi-faceted agenda, it should not be surprising that all parties felt it would be best to move in another direction. All of which leads us back to the announcement of Keith Creagh’s appointment.
There will be obvious concerns about Director Creagh’s deep roots in the agricultural side of public policy which have frequently been at odds with positions taken by many in the fisheries and wildlife sides of resource management. While we were among those who were skeptical about the merits of the Forest Management realignment and the sense that this was just a another step closer to its “agrification,” at least anecdotally the positive reports about the new Timber Advisory Council are encouraging. Similar positive outcomes have also been seen on the Parks and Recreation Division side of certain realignment/reassignment initiatives as well.
The point is that even for those of us who do not do well with change, we suspect that the only way the DNR gets to where it needs to be and attract sufficient support to solve both its long-term and near-term funding issues is to go through its own version of “Reinvention.” Once this is complete, it would seem that the Snyder Administration should have a greater level of “ownership” of the DNR and may ultimately make it less of a legislative target, especially by those within the Governor’s own party. To do otherwise would at some point begin to reflect negatively on the Snyder Administration itself.
The reality is, however, that given the Natural Resources Commission’s now-limited authority it will be up to each of us to make sure that this “Reinvention” does not result in a wholesale change in resource management values and principles. Given our options, we have no choice but to remain guardedly optimistic.
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