DNR announces hiring of new directors for Fish and Wildlife and Lands and Minerals divisions

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has hired two veteran state government leaders to head the agency’s Fish and Wildlife and Lands and Minerals divisions. 

Dave Olfelt, the DNR’s regional wildlife manager for northeastern Minnesota, has been named the Fish and Wildlife Division director. Joe Henderson, currently the assistant director for the Lands and Minerals Division overseeing permitting and other regulatory operations, has been named the Lands and Minerals Division director.

“I’m thrilled that Dave and Joe have agreed to take director positions in these two, high-profile DNR divisions,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen. “They bring tremendous experience and passion for their specific disciplines, and for engaging with our stakeholders.”

As the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director, Olfelt will oversee a biennial budget of more than $200 million and a staff of 600 employees. The division ensures that people from all walks of life can enjoy quality fishing and the aquatic habitats on Minnesota’s 4,500 managed lakes and 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams; and that they can discover, explore, hunt and enjoy Minnesota’s diverse wildlife and the forests, prairies, woods and wetlands on 5.6 million acres of DNR-administered lands.

The division manages cold and warm water hatcheries; conducts research to ensure that good science informs DNR fish and wildlife management decisions every day; and provides interdisciplinary conservation and environmental education programming.

Olfelt has served in various positions in wildlife, and parks and trails at the DNR since 1987. He worked as an assistant area wildlife manager in the south metropolitan area of the Twin Cities from 1988 to 1991, managing and restoring prairie and wetland habitats. He worked as a biologist for what was then the agency’s Parks and Recreation Division from 1991 to 2005, and later became assistant regional wildlife manager in Grand Rapids for the northeast region until 2010. He moved to the newly created Parks and Trails Division, serving as assistant regional manager for the northeast until 2015, when he became regional wildlife manager.

As regional wildlife manager, Olfelt has been responsible for wildlife programs in a region that roughly includes the northeastern quarter of Minnesota, extending north to the Canadian border and east to Lake Superior. In his more than 30-year career at the DNR, Olfelt has developed deep connections with recreation and wildlife stakeholders throughout Minnesota.

Henderson has spent 28 years working in various capacities at the DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). As Lands and Minerals Division director, Henderson will be responsible for providing real estate services for the management of state lands, overseeing the exploration and use of state-owned minerals, and providing regulatory oversight of ferrous and non-ferrous mining operations.

The division has a $13 million annual budget and 100 employees.

Prior to joining the DNR in 2013, Henderson spent approximately two years as the state mining coordinator, and worked to further develop collaborative relationships among state agencies on mining regulatory topics. Henderson served more than 20 years with the MPCA in a variety of leadership capacities focused primarily in the areas of enforcement, permitting, and environmental review.

In his time at the DNR, Henderson led the development of innovative approaches to improve government transparency, increase tribal engagement, and utilize technology to share information and facilitate public input.

Olfelt begins his Fish and Wildlife job on July 15. Henderson begins his job on July 8.