A conversation with DNR Director M. Scott Bowen

Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed M. Scott Bowen as Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in September 2023. 

Bowen served as the Commissioner of the Michigan Lottery from January 2008 to February 2017. He also served as the Director of Office of the State Employer and was elected to two terms on the Grand Rapids City Commission.

FLOW asked the DNR director for his views on his new job and priorities.

What do you see as the primary challenges the Department faces?

The challenges I see are built around our most urgent needs in resource management. This includes making sure we are managing for, and being part of the solution to, climate change. We also need to make sure we’re continuing to address the problem of invasive species, and we need to make sure we are paying close attention to fish and wildlife health. Water is critical to our state, and the DNR can help by making sure we protect and enhance water quality through wetland acquisitions, easements and restoration.  We can also restore river connectivity by removing dams where appropriate. We need to continue to expand the DNR workforce and customer base to be reflective of all Michigan’s residents. 

We have a wealth of public lands in Michigan, and we need to make sure we’re taking proper care of those. The same is true of all the infrastructure the DNR manages, from our state parks to our fish hatcheries and trails. Making sure we manage all that infrastructure well is essential. I want to make sure the department has the right level of sustainable funding to accomplish all those goals, so we need to continue to be creative in the way we approach that challenge. I’m sure I’ll identify other priorities as my time in the department continues. 

What has surprised and/or pleased you most about DNR in your early days as Director?

I’ve certainly been pleased by the quality and commitment of the staff. I’ve always admired and respected the work of the DNR, but I didn’t realize until I arrived how many smart, capable people there are working for the department. I’m new to this work, so having those people surround me has been a great support as I get up to speed on the operations of the department and begin to form ideas about what I’d like to accomplish. 

Traditionally, some outside constituencies have often seen a conflict between resource protection and economic development. Which do you think should get more emphasis?

I think it’s both together. The DNR is installing solar arrays at our state parks, fish hatcheries and on other public land. We’re continuing to install electric vehicle charging stations at state parks and other locations to support cleaner energy. Those new technologies are going to create jobs, which is one of the Governor’s stated goals in her Mi Healthy Climate Plan. We want to support and advance that effort in our work. 

What role do you believe DNR plays in defending public trust resources?

Protecting and managing the resources that are held in trust for the people of Michigan is the central role of our agency. We are just temporary stewards of the forests, lakes, streams, fish, wildlife, public lands, history and culture that belong to the people of the state. One of the reason I agreed to do this job is to make sure those resources are left in better shape than we found them for our kids and grandkids.

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