Minnesota DNR names Straka new wildlife chief

An expert in wildlife health who has worked for natural resource agencies in Michigan and Missouri has been hired as the new wildlife section manager at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Kelly Straka, a Minnesota native whose first job in conservation was with Minnesota’s shallow lakes program in Kandiyohi County, will start her duties Sept. 15, the DNR announced today. She’ll head a 240-person department that sets hunting regulations, manages wildlife populations and protects the health of wildlife species as varied as wolves and turtles.

Straka’s hiring will end a two-year vacancy that raised concerns inside and outside the agency that the job might not be filled and would instead be folded in with fisheries.

Straka, a field biologist and wildlife veterinarian who studied at the University of Minnesota in Duluth and in the Twin Cities, currently works for the state of Michigan as its wildlife health section supervisor in East Lansing. She started there in 2016. Previously, she was employed by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

A 1996 graduate of Wayzata High School, she also studied wildlife populations in Australia at the University of Tasmania, where she played rugby.

“I’m excited to be coming home,” Straka said.

The Minnesota job gives her the opportunity to advance the interests of conservation on a more comprehensive level – not strictly in the realm of animal health, she said.

In St. Paul, Straka will be a key influencer and decision-maker in logging versus wildlife issues, preserving Minnesota’s fragile moose population, stopping the spread of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer, striking the right balance in duck hunting, protecting loons, possibly introducing a new wild elk herd and safeguarding non-game wildlife species as varied as bees, butterflies, snakes, fishers, pine martens, ospreys and bluebirds.

Since Paul Telander retired nearly two years ago as Minnesota’s wildlife section chief, the job has been filled on an interim basis by DNR veteran Mike Larson in Grand Rapids. Straka, an avid trail runner, hunter and angler, will help direct $ 50 million in wildlife spending every two years.

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