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New Department of Natural Resources Has New Priorities
March 24, 2011
After a long career in state government, Rodeny Stokes has been named director of the Department of Natural Resources
The Department of Natural Resources is back.
As of March 13, 2011, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, which was made up of the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality, has been re-split back into its component parts.
The DNR now has the same responsibilities it had before the DNRE was created.
But there is at least one significant change: The new DNR is headed by Rodney Stokes, a nearly life-long DNR employee who held a variety of positions in the DNR and DNRE before being named director of the DNR by Gov. Rick Snyder.
A native of Georgia, Stokes came to work at the DNR in 1977 as a recreational specialist in the old Recreation Services Division, working in the grants program. Over the years he became the executive assistant to the Natural Resources Trust Fund, chief of Real Estate Division (1992) and chief of Parks Division (1997).
Stokes retired in 2002 and worked in recreation for the city of Detroit and then the city of Gainesville, Fla., before DNR Director Becky Humphries asked him to return to the agency to serve as department liaison to the Legislature.
During the next six years, Stokes also served as acting chief of Law Enforcement Division, Humphries' chief of staff, and chief of the Office of Science and Policy. He was set to retire again when Snyder tapped him on the shoulder.
"I was on my way out the door for the second time when I got the offer to head up the DNR," Stokes said. "I saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime."
Stokes wasted no time taking charge. Even before the DNR was officially recreated, he delineated four priorities for the agency: renewing the focus on customer service, promoting the Recreation Passport, reversing the decline in hunting and fishing license sales, and promoting the state's natural resources economy.
Stokes can readily explain how he set those priorities.
"DNR employees have a lot of face-to-face contact with the public and we must make sure those contacts are enjoyable and beneficial to the customer," Stokes said.
That customer service attitude should pervade all DNR employees, from conservation officers to parks employees, as well as those nonemployees who serve the DNR, such as license vendors, Stokes said.
"We have to make sure we provide good customer service because it's not only the right thing to do, but because we depend on those funds to manage our resources."
The Recreation Passport, a license plate endorsement that replaces the motor vehicle entry permit for state parks and recreation areas, is the key to future outdoor recreation at state facilities, Stokes said.
"We have to make sure it works and that people participate," he said. "We need about 17 percent participation just to break even with the old motor vehicle permit program. But we have $300 million in infrastructure needs, roads, water systems, electrical systems, in our parks. We need even more participation in the recreation passports program to help us make those improvements.
"And we need to make improvements to forest campgrounds, our trail system and foot-based recreation in general, too."
By lowering the price of state park admission to $10 annually, the department believes more people will find out what state parks and recreation areas have to offer, Stokes said. While other state's with budget issues have opted to close some state parks, the DNR is determined to keep them open, because of the economic impact those parks have on their communities.
"State parks visitors spend $650 million a year while visiting those parks," Stokes said. "It makes no sense to us to close parks when they are a definite, value-added tourist destination for Michigan residents and visitors."
Reversing the decline in hunting and fishing license sales is an issue nationwide and Michigan is no exception.
"It's extremely important to get people outdoors and get them to appreciate our abundant resources," Stokes said. "Only a tiny fraction of our budget comes from tax dollars. License sales finance the protection of our resources."
Although the focus on youth mentoring and recruiting is important, Stokes said, "it's not everything." Stokes said he thinks other programs, such as the apprentice hunting license or Becoming an Outdoor Woman, offer a huge opportunity to grow the hunting and fishing fraternity among adults, as well.
"We need to get our neighbors, our brothers-in-law, our siblings involved," he said. "When we talk about hunting in this state, people think about deer hunting, but we have tremendous small-game hunting, too."
Stokes talks about being initiated into grouse hunting and how impressed he was just watching the dogs work.
"That's something I didn't know a lot about and I think there are a lot of people out there who are the same way," he said. "I'm going to personally invite some friends to mentor them. If they have the experience I had, they'll be back and we'll bring more people into the sport. I think people, particularly in the urban areas, don't know what we have here in Michigan. We need to get the word out."
Stokes also says it's important to let the hunters and anglers know how important they are to the department.
"We recognize all the important work they have done, from ballot initiatives for recreational bonds to passing Proposal G," he said. "And we're going to need their help in the future, too."
Finally, Stokes said supporting the natural resources economy is important because so many of the businesses in Michigan depend on natural resources, from the forest products industry to mineral development to travel and tourism.
"Are we at the DNR doing our part to make sure those businesses are successful?" Stokes asked. "The success of those industries and our protection of natural resources are one in the same. This state was built on those resources: Our forest products and recreation industries generate $14 billion annually and support 136,000 jobs.
"We must be prudent managers of our natural resources," he continued, "because our economy depends on it."
If the DNR can accomplish the four goals Stokes identified, it'll be well on its way to success in the future, he said.
"All of us are very proud of this agency," he said. "We want to empower our employees to do all they can to help the public enjoy our natural resources. We want their pride to show when they say, "I work for the DNR."
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