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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has announced that Jim Leach, a veteran natural resources manager with deep ties to the state’s conservation community, will be the next director of the agency’s Fish and Wildlife Division.
For the past 16 years, Leach has been the wildlife refuge supervisor for Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in that agency’s Midwest regional office in Bloomington, Minn. He has been with the Fish and Wildlife Service for 35 years and has forged strong relationships with hunting and fishing organizations, tribal authorities and other conservation groups.
“Jim is an excellent collaborator at all levels of government and has a strong network of relationships in the Minnesota conservation community,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “Moreover, he started his career as a field biologist, so he has first-hand experience on how on-the-ground conservation gets done.”
As DNR Fish and Wildlife Division Director Leach, 62, will oversee a $139 million annual budget and a staff of 575 employees. The division, which includes the sections of wildlife, fisheries, outreach and administration, is charged with managing, protecting and regulating the state’s fish and wildlife resources. The division establishes fishing, hunting and other wildlife-related regulations; carries out census, survey and research projects; and promotes habitat protection and development on public and private lands. Leach starts his new DNR job on April 18.
In 1977, Leach began his fish and wildlife career as a laborer at the Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. He started his career as a Minnesota field biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the late 1970s working at Tamarac and Agassiz national wildlife refuges. In those capacities he worked with local governments and state agencies to restore and manage wetlands on public lands.
Leach became the Fish and Wildlife Service’s coordinator for the Upper Mississippi and Great Lakes Joint Venture in 1993, a position focused on improving habitat conditions for waterfowl across the Upper Mississippi River basin. This position required extensive collaboration with many organizations to improve Minnesota’s habitat, including the Minnesota DNR. He put in place a strategic habitat conservation plan for waterfowl focusing limited land acquisition and restoration dollars on the most important breeding habitat for ducks and geese. In his current role as wildlife refuge manager, Leach oversaw up to 18 field stations in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota for the Fish and Wildlife Service, creating a focus on land acquisitions and habitat restorations.
“Jim’s experience in working on habitat issues runs from restoring wetlands in western Minnesota, to managing land and water resources in northwest Minnesota, to working the hallways of Congress to promote funding for wildlife,” Landwehr said. “His range and depth of experience is a great fit for the Minnesota DNR, and a complement to our outstanding staff in the sections of fisheries, wildlife, outreach and administration.”
Leach, a native Minnesotan, has a master’s degree in zoology from the University of South Dakota and did his graduate research on trumpeter swans. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology, with a wildlife emphasis, from St. Cloud State University. Jim and his wife, Patty, have four children. He is a lifelong hunter and angler and has passed that passion on to his son and daughters.