Rod Sando

Ecosystem Management

Recorded: July 26, 2013

Rod Sando, formerly the Chief Executive of Natural Resources for Minnesota and Director of Idaho Fish and Game Department shares some tips on how to be a good natural resources manager.

Fish and wildlife management has been Dr. Sando’s life’s work for more than 35 years. He has served as the Chief Executive of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and as Director of Idaho Department of Fish and Game. He chaired the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board and served as the Director of the Columbia Fish and Wildlife Authority. Dr. Sando is the recipient of numerous awards for service and achievements such as the President’s Achievement Award from Idaho Wildlife Federation, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota GIS/LIS consortium, and a President’s Achievement Award from the Nature Conservancy.

In addition to his long public service career, Dr. Sando is also an educator. He was Assistant Professor for the University of Minnesota, College of Forestry and Center for Urban and Regional Affairs as well as a distinguished visiting professor at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine. Now retired, Dr. Sando continues to be actively involved in national fish and wildlife issues and was a key member of the team that authored the Resource Renewal Institute’s Council of Elders Recommendations to the Obama Administration for an Improved Columbia River Salmon Recovery Program. Dr. Sando’s exemplary public service career is a model for those looking to improve our nation’s management of natural resources.

Rod Sando:    We need to work with nature in the way that nature works.


Rod Sando:    When you go to college, you kind of open up whole new horizons and early on in my program, I ran across people who knew Aldo Leopold.  I actually have known several of his students and they stimulated the interest in his writing.  Everyone understands he’s kind of the father of wildlife management in United States professions.  And in his basic message in all of his writings is about the totality of the ecosystem.  He didn’t use those terms, but he writes and describes the need for integration of all of these things.  And one of his classic quotes is “A forest is not a forest unless the rough grouse is there.”  And you know that’s really true.

The idea of ecosystem management is the total integration of all of the things.  And one of the concepts I really rely on, and I try to focus and this has happened to me since maybe the last 15 or 20 years, and that is a preservation of ecological integrity, that’s what it’s really all about.  And the preservation of ecological integrity means that we’re going to have fully functioning ecosystems, which means, you have to have all of the species and organisms present that were fine in those ecosystems and you have to have all the processes.  You interfere with the process of a river by putting a dam on it, well no wonder things happen to the organisms, because we’ve interfered wholesale with the ecosystem process, a riverine process.  You know the refreshment and renewal of flood, the drought, all that stuff that changes a river, changes its course, changes its life.

The idea that fire protection has caused some problems on the landscape, well yes it did, and it’s because the lack of fire also means the lack of nutrient cycling.  For example, in Idaho, you can drive around there and you can see all the standing material that over time has accumulated all of the available nutrients on those sites and now they’re decadent.  And then they have a big fire, then it refreshes and renews.  So this is important.  This is important that the framework of ecological integrity, the principles of that I think will guide the future and will require a different kind of resource management.

Now you mentioned Minnesota, we had that big department with all the functions in one place.  That’s a foreign idea here in the west and I’m dedicating my little bit of political capital to the idea that maybe we ought to have a DNR [Department of Natural Resources] approach here where you have a chance to really truly integrate all these processes and functions and you’ll have higher quality decisions, you’ll have greater productivity and you’ll have a place that will be well enhanced.

It’s an abstract thing in terms of what I would call public service and the natural resources part of natural service is what I was involved with.  But there’s this idea of public service is really a wholly thing I think.  And having spent my life and career largely on public service, it’s a different kind of commitment.  My advice for young people, never give up. It ain’t over til it’s over.  You know that kind of principle is really important.  If you believe in the mission of preserving and protecting and enhancing the resources of this nation, you cannot give up because the forces will constantly be there to ask you to give up.  You know one of the most stunning things you need to understand is that there are lots of people out there working hard to make you fail.

Huey Johnson:    Yeah, that’s right.

Rod Sando:    And don’t take it personally, but take it seriously.