A former small town mayor, environmental group director and assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will be the agency's new head.

Sarah Strommen was named the state's top natural resource official Thursday by newly elected DFL Gov. Tim Walz.

Strommen once served as policy director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, a point that should set well with conservation and environmental groups across the state but less so with Iron Range mining supporters as the ongoing battle continues over possible copper mining near the federal wilderness that the DNR will be asked to issue permits for.

Strommen didn't immediately offer an opinion on the proposed Twin Metals mining project Thursday and said she would review that, if it comes to her office, as she would others.

"We will look at any regulatory project that comes in front of us," Strommen said. "I'm committed to ensuring we have robust public engagement and then there's science and data that's going to drive that."

Strommen, 46, is the first woman to hold the DNR commissioner post. She was selected by Walz over two other finalists: Tom Landwehr, the current DNR commissioner, and Keith Parker, the current central division director for the DNR.

Strommen is originally from St. Paul and now lives in the western Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth with her husband, son and two dogs. Since 2015 she has served as assistant commissioner for the divisions of Fish and Wildlife and Parks and Trails within DNR.

Strommen said she was honored to be chosen by Walz and incoming Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.

"Minnesota has a strong outdoor legacy, and I am excited to work collaboratively with staff, stakeholders, and everyday Minnesotans to enhance our diverse and first-rate outdoor experiences for all," Strommen said in a statement.

"As a sportsman and lifelong member of Pheasants Forever, I know firsthand the importance of this agency and being a steward of our land," Walz said in a statement. "Sarah Strommen built her career integrating science and policymaking across sectors, and has a deep understanding and appreciation for our natural resources. She embraces our vision for One Minnesota and will work to build consensus among citizens and stakeholders alike."

Strommen was praised by conservation group leaders, including Joe Duggan, former vice president of corporate relations at Pheasants Forever.

"With a deep appreciation for Minnesota's wildlife and natural lands, Sarah brings experience, passion and integrity to the Department of Natural Resources," Duggan said.

Strommen has more than 20 years of natural resource experience "with a focus on integrating the field of biological science with citizen education and public policy making,'' the gov-elect's office noted. After graduating from Grinnell College, she used a Fulbright research scholarship to do field work in Costa Rica and subsequently earned her Master's degree in environmental management from Duke University.

In addition to the policy director position for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness she served as Associate Director of the Minnesota Land Trust which seeks to purchase and preserve key plots of undeveloped land to protect natural resources. She first worked for the State of Minnesota in 2012, serving as the assistant director and acting deputy director for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

After serving several terms on the Ramsey, Minn. city council, Strommen was elected mayor of Ramsey in 2012 and held the office until May, 2018.

More deer hunts set as CWD spreads in SE Minnesota

The DNR has set even more special hunts in an effort to cull more potential carriers of chronic wasting disease, the always fatal deer disease that is spreading in many states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin.

CWD now has been found in wild deer in Houston County as well is in deer from deer farms in southeastern Minnesota. That's outside the previous area near in Fillmore County where several CWD deer have been found in recent years, some 10 this year alone among wild deer shot by hunters.

Residents and nonresidents can participate in the special CWD hunts from Jan. 25, through Jan. 27 and again Feb. 1 through Feb. 3 in deer permit area 346. The DNR will collect samples from deer shot during the two special hunts to help determine the extent of disease in that area. Hunters must bring all deer to a DNR-staffed check station to be tested for CWD.

The samples "will give us a better idea of whether additional wild deer in the area have been infected with CWD," said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager.

The special hunt area includes both the spot where a hunter harvested a CWD-positive wild deer in November and the farm in Winona County nine miles away where a tame deer tested positive for CWD in December 2017, Cornicelli said.

Hunters in a similar CWD special hunts last month in deer management zone 603 shot more than 420 deer in the areas of Fillmore County around Preston, Forestville, Harmony and Chatfield, some of them outside the previously suspected CWD range. The DNR also has contracted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for professional hunters to cull deer in the most infected areas.

During the upcoming special hunts, DNR biologists will collect samples to better understand if the adult male buck in Houston County was an outlier or indicative of a larger CWD outbreak in the area.

The DNR will use data collected from the special hunts to help inform the extent of disease and potential season changes for next year. The DNR also will issue limited landowner shooting permits to collect additional samples.

Private land makes up most of the area within the hunt area and hunters must have landowner permission to hunt that land. Public lands open during the regular season are open during the special hunts. Interactive maps providing details about public lands also will be available on the DNR's website at mndnr.gov.CWDcheck.