New DNR director Carter is one of us
Written by South Bend Tribune   
Sunday, 03 December 2006 17:31

You can't judge a person solely on a 20-minute phone conversation, but I liked what I heard from Indiana's new Department of Natural Resources Director. His name is Rob Carter. He's a former sheriff in Clay County who was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels to head the DNR's Law Enforcement Division two years ago.

On Monday, he takes over for Kyle Hupfer, an attorney by trade, who resigned as DNR Director to become general counsel for ProLiance Energy in Indianapolis.

As a former sheriff, Carter's credentials were more suitable for the DNR's Enforcement division he recently headed. At least he had experience with law enforcement matters.

But developing policy decisions for the entire DNR and taking on the 500-pound gorilla called "politics" is foreign turf for a 41-year-old man who spent most of his life in Clay County.

On the other hand, experience has never been a prerequisite for the job. Hupfer, for example, was a lawyer. He replaced John Goss, who headed the state's tourism division, and his predecessor, Larry Macklin, was a former legislator who owned a clothing store.

At least Carter has spent some time in the DNR.

More importantly, the man loves to fish and hunt. That certainly can't hurt.

"I've loved fishing since the day I was old enough to hold a rod," Carter told me this week. "I grew up fishing the strip pits of southern Indiana. Come on down and I can show you some fabulous bass fishing."

Now, there's a man who knows how to win me over.

Hunting, he added, came along later in his life. He got his first taste chasing rabbits and other small game and later learned the joy of waterfowling.

"That's my favorite, but I did a little turkey hunting last year and enjoyed that as well," he added.

Carter grew up the son of a coal miner and a stay-at-home mom. There was never a silver spoon in his mouth, he says, and he can identify with the average joe.

"I came from a lower middle class background," he explained. "I'm just a country boy from Clay County."

That's good, because the blue-collar crowd, those folks who buy fishing and hunting licenses, need someone to take notice of what ails them.

Like public access to more fishing and hunting grounds.

The new director says he's been on northern lakes like James and Maxinkuckee and sees how the shores have been developed. He also knows the problems that the DNR faces in developing better access.

"It's one of my big priorities, because I know that's what sportsmen need," Carter said. "Private land is becoming more scarce and we have to acquire more for public use."

Another priority is to introduce more youth to the outdoors.

"There's a nationwide decline in that and we have to find ways to get more kids involved," he offered. "After all, license sales is what funds the Fish and Wildlife Division."

One way, he said, is to appoint a Youth Coordinator whose job is to help recruit newcomers to outdoor sports.

"I think this is a project we can get our conservation officers involved with, because, really, they are the face of the DNR," Carter notes. "Where I come from, when you think of the DNR, you think of the green uniform. The COs are role models and we need to put them in the forefront of fish and wildlife."

Sounds good. The Fish and Wildlife Division has been an invisible empire of late and the DNR needs to do a lot better job of selling its programs.

Of course, there is that issue of the 500-pound gorilla.

Previous administrations were notorious for meddling in fish and wildlife issues. DNR directors were kept on a short leash.

Carter doesn't expect that to be an issue with him.

"When I met the governor, he never hinted at that," he said. "He told me, 'Be yourself, think on your own and don't let the grass grow under your feet'. I'll make decisions on the advice I get from biologists and other professionals, and I hope that politics will never enter into the equation."

That's what we like to hear. Let's hope he can back it up.
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