2012-09-13 / Outdoors

Creagh looks to revamp agency image

New DNR director talks about passion, vision


DNR Director Keith Creagh, appointed in June 2012, is shown recently discussing his lifelong passion for Michigan’s natural resources. 
Courtesy photo DNR Director Keith Creagh, appointed in June 2012, is shown recently discussing his lifelong passion for Michigan’s natural resources. Courtesy photo LANSING – When he graduated from college, Keith Creagh hoped to go straight to work for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Thirty-eight years later, he got his wish.

“It took me a long time to work the system,” he said with a grin.

Creagh – named director of the DNR in June – is busy settling into a position that suits him, though that really hasn’t ever been an issue throughout his career. He came to the DNR from Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, where he spent most of his working life and most recently served as director. After 30 years with Agriculture, Creagh left state government for a few years to work in the biotech industry, only to be tapped by Gov. Rick Snyder in January 2011 to head the newly configured state agriculture agency

Eighteen months later, Gov. Snyder asked Creagh to lead the very agency he had aspired to join as a new graduate.

It’s been an interesting journey.

Shortly after earning his forestry degree from Houghton’s Michigan Technological University in 1974, Creagh was cruising timber in Wisconsin when he saw an ad for someone to work in the plant industry in his home state’s Department of Agriculture. His first assignment in St. Clair County – not far from where he grew up in East Detroit – was a good fit, he said, as he lived close enough to take advantage of the perch and walleye fishing and duck hunting at Lake St. Clair.

“It was a perfect job,” he said.

Creagh moved to Lansing to work in the pesticide program in 1985. He eventually headed the division, spending 12 years as chief deputy director of the department before leaving state government in 2007. He spent roughly a year and a half heading Agriculture and Rural Development when the governor asked him to take over the DNR, filling the role left vacant by former director Rodney Stokes who is now helping the governor’s office in its effort to revitalize the state’s urban centers.

“It took me about 30 seconds to accept the offer,” Creagh said.

The DNR fits well into Creagh’s personal life. A lifelong outdoorsman and proud Eagle Scout, he grew up fishing and camping with his family. He still remembers the excitement, as a 10-yearold, when his father invited him to his first deer camp – a tradition the two still share.

A high school jock, Creagh quit the college swimming team “so I could go hunting and fishing,” he said. He “lived on game and fish in college” and spent one term running a trap line for muskrats in order to pay for a mule deer hunting trip to New Mexico.

Although he hunted pheasants in southern Michigan with his beagle when he was younger, Creagh said he prefers ruffed grouse hunting these days.

“I like to get lost in the big woods,” he said. “You’re in such beautiful habitat and you get to see all kinds of things in the woods.”

An inland-lake angler (“for everything from bluegills to bass and pike”), Creagh also hunts deer in the Upper Peninsula, snowmobiles once or twice a winter, cross-country skis and even gets a kayak in the water on occasion. “My wife likes fly fishing,” he said, “so you’ll catch me doing that once in awhile.”

Although Creagh was familiar with the workings of the DNR – it is one of three agencies, along with the Department of Environmental Quality and his former agency, MDARD, in the state’s Quality of Life group within the Snyder administration – he said he didn’t bring any predetermined plan of action with him.

“I learned early in my career that coming in with preconceived notions is shooting yourself in the foot,” he said.

Instead, he said, he hopes that by bringing a different background into the department he can help support what the agency is already working to accomplish and find new opportunities. Creagh said he is intrigued, for example, with exploring how the DNR might be able to better help the state’s regional economies prosper.

He has a dog in this particular fight.

Creagh’s children left Michigan to pursue career opportunities elsewhere, so he said Gov. Snyder’s concept of reinventing Michigan is one that speaks to him.

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