New division chiefs named for MDC

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JEFFERSON CITY Mo – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has promoted six staff members to positions as division chiefs.

Chris Vitello has been selected as the new Fisheries division chief. Vitello replaces Bill Turner, who retired June 30 after 32 years with the MDC.

Vitello earned a bachelor’s degree in Fisheries & Wildlife in 1977 from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He was awarded his master’s degree in Biology/Limnology in 1979 from Southwest Missouri State University-Springfield. Prior to joining the MDC in 1987, Vitello worked in related professions in Montana. He began his career at the MDC as a Fisheries management specialist in Cape Girardeau. His career with the MDC has included positions as a Fisheries management biologist, regional supervisor and most recently field operations chief.

“Chris is a motivated and experienced administrator and biologist with a proven 31-year track record in resource management, project coordination and supervision,” said MDC Director Bob Ziehmer. “His extensive experience in interagency coordination, partnership development and public service is paralleled by a demonstrated history of multiple task management, budget oversight and working in team environments.”

The Fisheries division manages the fish and associated aquatic plants and animals of Missouri for the use and enjoyment of the people. Fisheries staff maintain aquatic ecosystem integrity and protect aquatic biodiversity, manage public fisheries resources, provide services to private landowners and provide public information and education.

Jacob Careaga has been selected as the new Design & Development division chief. Careaga replaces Bill Lueckenhoff, who retired June 30 after 33 years with the MDC.

Careaga began his career with the MDC in 2003 as a project engineer and most recently served as a Design & Development unit chief for the last four years. His professional experience includes working in the private sector, for the Missouri Department of Transportation as a structural designer and for Jefferson City as a civil engineer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri – Rolla and is a licensed professional engineer.

“Jacob brings a strong work ethic, innovative thinking and strategic vision to the administrative team and believes in working with people to accomplish our collective conservation goals,” said Ziehmer. “He has broad experience, strong leadership and effective management skills.”

The Design & Development division provides professional support to the MDC in the areas of engineering, architecture, computer-aided drafting, surveying, construction and maintenance to ensure that Missourians enjoy high quality public-use facilities. The division also provides professional advice and guidance to other staff on best management practices for the operation of facilities and takes a lead role in the development and oversight of capital improvement projects.

Mike Hubbard has been selected as the new Private Land Services division chief. Hubbard replaces Bill McGuire, who retired June 30 after 35 years with the MDC.

Hubbard received a bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1988 and a master’s degree in Wildlife Biology from Iowa State University in 1991. He earned a doctorate degree in Animal Ecology from Iowa State University in 1997.

He worked for the U.S. Forest Service and Iowa State University as a research assistant and associate before joining the MDC in 1999 as a Wildlife research biologist. He became a Resource Science supervisor in 2003 and then Resource Science field chief in 2008.

“Mike is a mentor and leader with the capacity for strategic thinking, establishing program priorities, providing oversight and guidance and maintaining a valuable understanding of department and stakeholder perspectives,” said Ziehmer. “This background, along with a strong knowledge of ecology and wildlife management strategies, substantial experience related to agency regulations and long-term planning, involvement in committees and media relations will well serve the department and people of Missouri.”

The Private Land Services division helps Missouri landowners achieve their land-use objectives in ways that enhance the conservation of Missouri's natural resources. Staff promote the wise use of fish, forest, wildlife and natural communities through private-landowner participation, information sharing, financial assistance and partnerships. Staff also develop and maintain partnerships with other state and federal agencies, commodity groups, agri-businesses and conservation organizations to develop and achieve common natural resource goals.

Mike Huffman has been selected as the new Outreach & Education division chief. Huffman replaces Lorna Domke who retired June 30, after 26 years with the MDC.

Huffman served in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft maintenance technician before obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Forestry from Utah State University in 1983. He then worked as a forestry technician with the U.S. Forest Service in Utah and as a graduate assistant at Purdue University in Indiana. He joined the MDC in 1987 as a resource forester assistant. Over the next 23 years, he served as a resource forester, Forestry regional supervisor, Forestry programs supervisor, Wildlife regional supervisor and most recently as the forest management chief for the MDC’s Missouri River Unit.

“Mike is a proven communicator who is able to cultivate positive working relationships within and between divisions,” said Ziehmer. “His strong leadership skills, coupled with adaptability and enthusiasm, make him a ‘go to’ person willing to mentor staff and address issues in a fair and balanced manner.”

The Outreach & Education division helps Missourians understand and value our fish, forest and wildlife resources. Staff work in three main areas: outreach programs, conservation education and outdoor skills. The outreach programs staff produce a variety of information tools, including the Missouri Conservationist and numerous other publications, videos, the MDC website, exhibits, media relations, nature shops and more. The conservation education staff work through schools and nature centers to help Missourians learn more about putting conservation into practice. The outdoor skills staff provide school-based skills training as well as classes for youth and adults who want to hunt, fish, camp, hike or enjoy the outdoors through safe and ethical nature-based recreation.

Mike Kruse has been selected as the new Resource Science division chief. Kruse replaces Ron Dent, who retired June 30 after 34 years with the MDC.

Kruse received a bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1983 and a master’s degree in Environmental and Forest Biology from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 1985. He worked as a biologist for the University of Wisconsin Center for Lake Superior Environmental Studies before joining the MDC as a Fisheries division management specialist in 1986. He then held the positions of Fisheries research biologist, programs supervisor, administrative manager, and most recently as Resource Science Center unit chief before accepting his new position.

“Mike is a well-known and respected leader with broad experience in many aspects of natural resources conservation,” said Ziehmer. “He has served on numerous internal committees and task forces, and has established and maintains cooperative working relationships with universities, colleges, agencies and non-governmental research groups.”

The Resource Science division ensures the integration of population dynamics, habitat relationships and constituent desires into science-based management and policy for grassland, agricultural, forest, wetland and aquatic systems throughout Missouri. Division staff assist resource managers with evaluation of fish, wildlife, and habitat management efforts with a special emphasis on species and communities of concern through surveys, monitoring and comprehensive databases. The division also provides technical support for establishing harvest regulations, conservation planning, and public information.

Earlier in the year, Tom Neubauer was named Human Resources division chief. Neubauer replaces Debbie Strobel, who retired after 34 years with the MDC.

Neubauer graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Psychology and began his 17-year career in human resources work. He started with the Missouri Department of Transportation as a human resources specialist and was promoted several times before becoming compensation supervisor. He joined the MDC in 2003 as the compensation and benefits manager and held this position prior to his current one.

“Throughout his career, Tom has been involved in a wide range of HR functions,” said Ziehmer. “He has extensive knowledge of organizational structures, internal relationships and market competitiveness. His work with our insurance health plan has been important in keeping it fiscally sound while and still providing valuable member benefits and services. As a fisherman and outdoorsman, Tom strongly believes in our mission and its positive impact on our stakeholders and environment.”

The Human Resources division provides services that help the MDC attract and retain qualified employees to accomplish its goals and objectives. Division activities include recruitment and selection, compensation and job classification, policy administration, training and development, benefits, employee relations and safety.

The noted retirements, along with 96 others at the end of the Department’s 2010 fiscal year, June 30, are part of the MDC’s expense reduction plan. The plan was approved by the Conservation Commission in September 2009 and includes reducing staff, primarily through retirements.

“Employee salaries and benefits are typically an organization’s largest expenses,” explained Ziehmer. “Reducing personnel costs compared to other expenses will help keep us in a sound financial position while still allowing us to provide quality conservation services to the people of Missouri.”