The Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is one of the state’s largest agencies, whose directive is to ensure Utah’s quality of life by managing and protecting the state’s natural resources. The Department was created in 1967 when at the time, 11 different agencies were overseeing Utah’s natural resources, often with overlapping responsibilities. The agencies were then consolidated, resulting in the current Utah DNR, of which Mike Styler is the current Executive Director.
-What is your background?
I have a farm and feedlot in West-Central Utah. I farm (with son’s help) about 450 acres using flood irrigation. I’ve taught US History to 8th graders (13 years), been a Millard County Commissioner (eight years), been in Utah’s legislature (12 years) and have been the Director of the DNR since January 2005.
-What are some of your favorite things to do in Utah?
I love ice fishing, pheasant, turkey, chukar, duck, and dove hunting. I like deer and elk hunting. I like camping with the family and to visit our State Parks and National Parks. I like rock-hounding and finding hidden Utah scenic treasures…Ghost towns, etc. and to watch the sun set from the view point on Antelope Island.
-What does the Utah DNR entail? What is your responsibility?
Department of Natural Resources has 7 Divisions, listed from largest: Wildlife Resources, Utah State Parks, Forestry-fire-and State Lands, Division of Water Rights, Division of Oil Gas and Mining, Utah Geological Survey, and Division of Water Resources. In administration we additionally have our Central Finance and Internal Audit Team, Sensitive Species Office, and The Utah Watershed Initiative. I make sure good Division Directors are in place and answer for our Department to the Governor and the Legislature.
-What are some of the biggest issues facing your department?
The biggest issues we have are competing with other entities for top-notch employees where we are somewhat below the private salary scale. We are faced with increased demand for services in issuing of water permits/change applications when water issues are increasingly litigious because of skyrocketing water prices.
We have increased pressure to defend wildlife from being placed on the endangered species list, despite huge investments in habitat and watershed improvement.
-How does the DNR balance its divisions that some think are in conflict- IE- outdoor recreation and extraction industries?
A good example of our Division’s cooperation is that between the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining and Division of Wildlife Resources. OGM is funding several DWR biologists whose job is to assist in the placement of drilling pads. They offer advice to extraction companies how to avoid sensitive plants and wildlife and how to minimize other impacts from related extraction activities. It’s wildly popular with our clients. Our Watershed Initiative has direct benefits of removing fuel for catastrophic wildfires, improving watershed capacity and yield, while providing improved habitat for game and sensitive species. We find that wise decisions impact ALL of our decisions when those decisions involve increased land health.
-How would the DNR be affected by having federal lands turned over to the State?
BLM Utah and Forest Service Utah both have budgets upwards of $100 million. Their $200 Million exceeds the $180 Million spend by all of DNR last year. BLM manages 22.9 Million Acres. Forest Service manages over 9 Million Acres. The DNR manages about .56 million acres. We also have management responsibility for all the lands under Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, Bear Lake and a bit of the Colorado River. Obviously, we are not now geared up to take on the management responsibility or the costs borne by BLM or Forest Service.
-What have been some of your biggest recent successes?
We’ve recently completed the automation of oil and gas drilling permits, and have cut our department wide general fund reliance from 30% to about 18%. We recently celebrated the completion of 1 million acres of watershed restoration work. We’ve completed training of volunteer fire departments to be first responders all around the State. We’ve reduced by a significant amount, the waiting time on water change applications. We’ve recently funded the most expensive water conservation project in our history with the $155 Million Provo Canal enclosure, and have announced the discovery of a potentially world class geothermal find in Central Utah. We’ve discovered new, never before recognized, dinosaurs on almost a monthly basis. We have welcomed ecord visitors at our State Parks with record visitation during the federal park shutdown. I could go on…
What are the biggest water issues in Utah right now?
DNR is in the center of water issues. Central to the water debate is the dilemma of old, forfeited water rights (because of non use) now being presented to the State Engineer as valid water rights. Those who champion these bad water rights don’t want the State Engineer to have the authority to reject them.
-What are some of the pressures facing our State Parks? What are your favorites?
Utah’s State Park system has weathered the economic slowdown, a legislative audit, sharp budget cuts and personnel cuts. They’ve developed an entrepreneurial staff that are attracting new private concessions and record visitation numbers. We’ve not had to close a single park in the last 10 years. Our favorites are usually boating parks like Jordanelle, and Sand Hollow, but we have great crowds at DeadHorse Point and Antelope Island. My favorite is a tie between Palisades, Otter Creek, and Territorial Statehouse.
How are things going at the Wildlife Resources Division?
Wildlife Resources has increasing demand so they try to increase wildlife numbers. They’ve been working hard to increase mule deer numbers and seem to be making progress. They work hard to intercede when wildlife become a problem to agriculture interests and they’ve implemented new programs to remove unwanted urban wildlife. Fishing is probably at an all time best, because we have unprecedented numbers of fish being produced at fish hatcheries statewide and water levels are still pretty good. Thousands of pheasants have been released by our sportsmen partners, and millions of dollars a year are being invested in habitat improvement. For hunting and fishing, (except for mule deer which are rebounding) the good old days are NOW.
-What are some of the challenges facing our forests?
Our forests would be managed differently if the Forest Service was not shackled by lawsuits. Dead beetle-killed timber would be promptly removed and we would still have a thriving timber industry. We have lost much of that industry and roadless designation blocks harvesting of much of our forests.
-The recent “goblin toppling” incident in Goblin Valley garnered national attention, will this result in any DNR policy changes regarding park protections?
The goblin topplers were charged by the local county attorney. The legislature this year chose to leave our current policies in place. We believe they are adequate.
-Best thing about your job?
2nd Best thing about my job is to change the face of the land through the application of scientifically proven methods of watershed restoration. Best thing about this job is coming to work and seeing dedicated people who love their work and are dedicated to Utah’s Natural Resource health.
Hardest thing about my job is protecting a system of water rights that is a very equitable and orderly system in the face of challenges from water speculators.