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The head of the Fish and Wildlife Division at Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources is retiring after five years on the job, making way for the promotion of wildlife veterinarian Kelly Straka as the new chief.

DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen announced the personnel move Monday in a letter to agency staff. The outgoing division director, Dave Olfelt, will work at DNR part-time until March 2025 to help launch an electronic licensing system approved this year by the Legislature.

Strommen complimented Olfelt for a "long and distinguished career" at DNR that began in 1987 and included assignments as a field biologist and regional administrator in the section of wildlife and in the Parks and Trails division. Strommen said Olfelt's accomplishments included the continuation of an aggressive fight against chronic wasting disease in wild deer, updating Minnesota's wolf management plan, improving relationships with the fish bait industry and upgrading the status of native rough fish.

For most of Olfelt's tenure atop the Fish and Wildlife Division, he's been at odds with wildlife managers in the field who watched him and Strommen defend a timber harvest program that the wildlife managers say disregards the habitat needs of deer, moose, martens, fishers and other species. In August 2023, the issue flared to new heights when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service temporarily withheld $22 million from DNR. The federal agency wanted DNR to prove that logging on public hunting land was designed primarily to benefit wildlife.

Still simmering is a state investigation of the allegedly inappropriate logging. The probe is being carried out by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, and a public report is expected by year's end.

Olfelt's replacement, Straka, is a native Minnesotan who began her conservation career in DNR's Shallow Lakes Program before journeying to various wildlife jobs in Hawaii, Michigan and Missouri. She was rehired by DNR in 2021 as the agency's wildlife section manager.

Starting July 4, she'll be in charge of a $276 million budget in a division with 561 employees.

"Kelly has a passion for public lands, mentoring people in the outdoors, supporting natural resource managers and building cross-disciplinary partnerships," Strommen said. "These passions, combined with her commitment to the health of our fish and wildlife resources, make her a terrific fit."