FROM THE DNR: Why deer shed antlers, Parks and Trails Division director to retire…

MINNESOTA DNR NEWS #16                                                                                 March 3, 2014

DNR names Erika Rivers director of Parks and Trails Division
DNR’s Parks and Trails Division director to retire in April
Question of the week: antlers


DNR names Erika Rivers director of Parks and Trails Division
Current director set to retire in April

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr will appoint Assistant Commissioner Erika Rivers to serve as director of the Parks and Trails Division when its current director, Courtland Nelson, retires in April.

Rivers, 41, was appointed assistant commissioner by Landwehr in 2011 and currently oversees three divisions for the commissioner’s office: Parks and Trails, Fish and Wildlife, and Enforcement. Prior to her work in the commissioner’s office, she served the agency for seven years in northern Minnesota in various planning and outreach roles. She began working closely with the Parks and Trails Division in 2010, when she managed the development of the master plan for Minnesota’s newest state park on Lake Vermilion.

“I asked Erika to make this move because I believe she is uniquely positioned to continue moving the Parks and Trails Division toward realizing its vision of ‘creating unforgettable experiences that inspire people to pass along the love for the outdoors to current and future generations,’” Landwehr said.  “Erika has proven herself a strong leader during her three years in the commissioner’s office.”

According to Landwehr, Rivers, will bring great energy and enthusiasm to the Parks and Trails Division with her deep passion for connecting people of all backgrounds to the outdoors, a focus on continuous improvement and Better Government for a Better Minnesota, and a strong emphasis on collaboration between DNR divisions and with external partners.

“The parks and trails system is our most comprehensive and accessible way to connect all Minnesotans to the outdoors, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to learn that Erika Rivers will lead it,” said Greg Lais, founder of Wilderness Inquiry. “Erika is very committed to providing opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. She is innovative, partner minded, and she gets things done. People like working with her.”

Lais and Wilderness Inquiry work extensively with the DNR to connect youth and families to the outdoors through a collaborative program called Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures that reaches thousands of underserved youth throughout the state.

While in the commissioner’s office, Rivers oversaw the development of strategic plans, development planning for the Fort Snelling Upper Post, Lake Vermilion State Park and La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, and the initiation of Phase II of off-highway vehicle system planning. She also has helped facilitate collaboration between the Met Council, DNR and Greater Minnesota on planning and allocation of the Parks and Trails Legacy funding that was approved by Minnesota voters in 2008.

Rivers will oversee a $103 million annual budget and a staff of 1,200 full- and part-time employees. State parks and trails host more than 9 million visitors each year and help support Minnesota’s $11.9 billion tourism industry. The division manages:

  • 76 state parks and recreation areas.
  • 62 state forest campgrounds and day use areas.
  • Thousands of miles of state trails: forest (390), horse (1,000), ski (730), off-highway vehicle (1,000), snowmobile (950), water trails (4,530).
  • 1,500 public water access sites.
  • 350 fishing piers.

“It has been my privilege to serve in the commissioner’s office under Commissioner Landwehr for the past three years,” Rivers said. “I am honored and excited to be returning to the Parks and Trails Division to lead the talented staff and important work that’s being done there to connect people to the outdoors and Minnesota’s natural and cultural resources.”

Rivers holds a Ph.D. in conservation biology from the University of Minnesota. She shares her love of the outdoors with her young family through a variety of outdoors interests, including archery, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing and camping.



DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                              March 3, 2014

DNR’s Parks and Trails Division director to retire in April

A decade after he was hired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Courtland Nelson, 63, will retire April 21from his position as director of the Parks and Trails Division.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve significantly expanded the number of outdoor recreation opportunities available in Minnesota; we’ve protected, preserved and restored lands and waters across the state; and we’ve dramatically increased the number of people who are getting outdoors,” Nelson said.

Nelson began his career as a seasonal ranger at Wasatch Mountain State Park in Utah in 1976, and served in various parks jobs in Utah and Arizona until becoming director of the Utah State Division of Parks and Recreation in 1993. He served in that role until February 2004, when he joined the Minnesota DNR.

Under Nelson’s leadership the Parks and Trails Division:

  • Added new units, to include Lake Vermilion State Park, La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, Brown’s Creek State Trail, and a 25-mile single-track mountain bike trail system at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.
  • Built new visitor centers at Grand Portage, Itasca and Tettegouche state parks.
  • Tripled the number of cabin cabins at state parks.
  • Increased sales of state park daily vehicle permits by 33 percent and year-round permits by 22 percent.
  • Launched an innovative series of skill-building programs — I Can Camp!, I Can Climb!, I Can Paddle!, I Can Fish! and Archery in the Parks — which have connected new people to the outdoors, an important pillar of the DNR’s mission.

In 2008, Nelson oversaw the integration of the Parks and Recreation Division with the Trails and Waterways Division, where outdoor recreation opportunities have also been expanding. In the last 10 years, for example, six state water trails, 200 paved state trail miles, and a multitude of public water accesses and fishing piers have been added statewide.

“Minnesota already had one of the best parks and trails systems in the country when I arrived, but the passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008 has allowed us to make it even better,” Nelson said. “Although funding challenges remain, the future looks bright for state parks and trails.”

According to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, “Courtland has brought national recognition to Minnesota state parks. His experience in leading state park organizations in Arizona and Utah prior to joining us in Minnesota brought us critical insight into other recreation systems. We will miss his steady presence and leadership.”

Following his retirement, Nelson plans to spend more time with his wife and their daughter. They plan to divide their time between Utah and Minnesota, where park and trail users in both states can expect to see them out hiking, biking and cross-country skiing on a regular basis.


Q: It is not uncommon to find antlers lying on the forest floor in the spring. Why do buck deer, bull moose and other antlered species shed their antlers?

A: Annual cycles in deer antlers are related to the changing seasons. Deer have adapted their physiology and behavior to respond to seasonal changes, including antler growth and shedding. The environmental cue that regulates antler growth is the amount of day length; the physiological cue is the hormone testosterone. Simply put, the changing day lengths are sensed by the eyes, which send this message via the optic nerve to the pineal gland located at the base of the brain. The declining day length in late fall and early winter causes a decrease in testosterone, which results in antler shedding. The actual process of antler shedding involves the formation of a thin layer of tissue destruction that forms between the antler and the pedicle, called the abscission layer. The degeneration of the bone-to-bone bond between the antler and the pedicle is considered to be the fastest deterioration of living tissue known in the animal kingdom.

– Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor



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