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Breaking the Ice: Love of outdoors leads to heritage council

Name: Mark Johnson

Title: Executive director, Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council

Education: Bachelor’s degree, criminal justice, Bemidji State University; master’s degree, management, College of St. Scholastica

An avid angler and hunter, Mark Johnson fell in love with the outdoors while growing up in northwestern Minnesota.

Johnson, who has worked in natural resource conservation for decades, has done so on a statewide level for the past two years as executive director of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The council makes recommendations to legislators on how to spend some $100 million a year from the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund to finance projects to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife.

“It’s almost beyond comprehension how important this is for Minnesota’s natural resources,” Johnson said.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. They probably could just say, “I hear you have chickens?” Or, “I hear you have livestock?” We’ve got about 40 fowl, four ducks, 30 some odd chickens and three sheep and a goat. That’s our evening chores and morning chores.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. When I was old enough, the first two candidates were Ford and Carter. And I voted for one of them.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. If it entails murder mysteries or adventure, that’s what I read. When I grew up I was not a reader at all. When I got out of high school I had extremely poor reading skills. It wasn’t until college that I had to take some reading classes and force myself to read. I started reading with my daughter when she was little and that’s what forced me to get in and keep me into it.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. It’s the lack of willingness to listen. If people can’t stop and listen to other people’s positions and opinions, you’re never going to communicate effectively and people won’t understand what the other is trying to get at or where they’re coming from.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I really do enjoy hunting and fishing. Woodworking is something that I love but I don’t do enough of.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. If we were looking at my hometown, that would be where I grew up, that would be Fertile. There’s not a lot in the city of Fertile. Depends on what age you are. If you’re older we could go down to the golf course. If you’re younger we could grab a bow and arrow and go and shoot striped gophers at the fairgrounds, or try to. Or we’d grab a fishing rod and just get outside of town on the Sandhill River and catch northerns.

Q. What’s one way to end partisan polarization?

A. The whole system is set up for partisan debate. But what we don’t have any more is debate and compromise. Compromise doesn’t mean you give up what you want. Compromise means you come to an understanding, come to a middle ground where not everybody is totally happy, not everybody is totally displeased.

Q. Where do you like to eat lunch?

A. I like to go to the Hmongtown Marketplace up on Como. The last one on the end is called Mama’s Fusion. They have the best pork belly. You get a chunk of pork belly — it looks like a piece of bacon on steroids. They hack that baby up and you eat the whole thing, the fat and the skin and everything.

Q. If you’re not at your desk, you’re probably?

A. I’m probably visiting legislators or in committee. Some field outings. It’s been really fun to go out and see the projects. We’ve seen some just incredible work right here in the metro as well as statewide.

Q. What’s your favorite hidden place at the Capitol?

A. The barbershop in the basement of the [State Office Building]. I’m a customer. They’ve got free popcorn. There’s always coffee on. During session, the legislators are down there. You go down there early in the morning and there’s a legislator getting his haircut so you can start talking right away — or listening right away. It’s a jewel.

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