Exiting chief offers opinions on future

EDITOR’S NOTE: Randy Kreil, North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife division chief, recently announced he plans to retire from the position he has held for 20 years. Kreil’s final day with Game and Fish will be Aug. 29. The following is Kreil’s response to a series of questions asked by The Minot Daily News.

MDN – Why resign now?

Kreil – It goes back to when my wife and I made a commitment to each other when we were about 40 years old, to retire early and spend some time together. I’m living up to that commitment.

I lost both my parents by age 34. I lost my mother when she was 39 and my father when he was 57. It reminds you life can be short. We wanted to have some time and be physically able to do the things we want to do.

MDN – When did you start with the department?

Kreil – I started July 1, 1985. The first four years, I was a contract employee working on the North Dakota Heritage Program, special places and rare species. Then I spent five years as endangered species coordinator. In 1994, I was named wildlife division chief.

MDN – When did you know you wanted to be with Game and Fish?

Kreil – When I was in high school. My father was a fisheries biologist out of Devils Lake. He was there when the first fish were stocked, pike and perch. I helped pull nets and fell in love with the outdoors and decided that’s what I wanted to do.

MDN – What are some of the highlights for you at Game and Fish?

Kreil – It would be just the opportunity to work for the department in a position I never dreamed would have been possible. The people that work here are tremendous in terms of their dedication and commitment to the resources of the state.

MDN – Twice you applied for appointment as director. You didn’t get those appointments yet remained at Game and Fish. How were you able to do that?

Kreil – I was relieved. I applied when Dean Hildebrand was hired for his second term, which was fine. I’d known Dean since high school. He was a teacher of mine and I worked at the same grocery store as his daughter. I gave Gov. Hoeven a choice. Dean and I got along great.

Hoeven was governor when Terry Steinwand was hired. Both of us had second interviews. I remember the conversation distinctly with Hoeven and chief of staff Bill Goetz. I was asked if Terry was hired for the job, how would we get along? I said no problem at all, that Terry was a groomsman at my wedding. I did mention that Terry had a serious character flaw. Hoeven and Goetz looked at me and finally Hoeven said, what is it?

I told them, “He’s a Green Bay Packers fan.” The governor said, “So am I.”

Working for Terry has been great. Terry and I have been friends for 35 years.

MDN – How have things changed outside the building during your time at Game and Fish?

Kreil – There’s been dramatic fluctuations in the habitat base. At the peak of CRP you added 3.4 million acres of habitat on the landscape and we saw the benefits of that. Now, with the loss of 2 million acres of CRP and loss of native grass and wetland drainage and energy development and hundreds of miles of tree belts, there is tremendous pressure on that habitat base, which is going to have a tremendous effect on wildlife populations and hunting opportunities, unless these trends can be slowed or reversed.

It could happen, if we all work together collectively as a state from congressional delegations to the governor’s office to state legislators to local county governments and sportmen’s clubs and private landowners. It can happen. It may be the only chance to save hunting as we know it. If not, I fear for the future.

It will take a substantial amount of money to get it done. If you do conservation on private land you have to give farmers and ranchers an economically viable alternative to commodity production. If you provide economic return on acres to be conserved it can be done, but it will take the collective will of everybody to save hunting as we know it. It’s not impossible if people decide, but it’s a conscious decision. Either they want to or they don’t. You can’t have it both ways.

MDN – What’s ahead for you and the wildlife division?

Kreil – The wildlife division will be fine. There’s just a tremendous talent base in the wildlife division. It’s not about one person. It has always been a team effort.

For me personally, I want to remain involved in conservation issues in the state. I have no idea what that’s going to be or what role that will be, but I do know I won’t be looking until after Jan. 5, which is when upland game closes.

MDN – How do you see hunting and fishing in our state in the coming years?

Kreil – I’m very worried about it. I’m very worried because of habitat loss and the disconnect that the average hunter and angler has, the understanding between habitat base and hunting opportunities. It is something that should be so fundamentally obvious, yet is being missed by the hunters of this state. They are going to wake up some day and say, “What happened?” They need to get off their butts and get involved if they want to save hunting.