Former MUCC staffer Dave Nyberg applying law degree, public policy experience to conservation

In response to Mr. Alan Campbell’s Legends of Conservation column, the Michigan Out-of-Doors editorial staff sought to highlight individuals who might someday make their way into those pages. The Rising Stars in Conservation column seeks to introduce readers to the next generation of natural resource conservation professionals, sharing their experiences, their voices, their ambitions and their outlook on the future of the field. Leaders today look different, hold different positions and have been trained differently than traditional conservationists, and they are worthy of an introduction. 

By Chris Lamphere

Those lucky enough to blend their careers with their hobbies often find the balancing act more productive and rewarding than separating the two aspects of life.

That has been the case for 39-year-old David Nyberg, who in college figured out a way to combine his career as a burgeoning policy wonk with his passion for hunting, fishing and other conservation-related activities.

Growing up in the Upper Peninsula north of Escanaba, Nyberg was introduced to outdoor pursuits by his father and grandfather. His father is part-owner of the Bay de Noc Lure Co., which manufactures hand-made fishing lures, including the “Swedish Pimple” and “Do-Jigger.” Formative memories include learning how to shoot a .22 rifle, attending the family deer camp and going on ice-fishing outings.

Like many millennials, Nyberg drifted away from those interests during his high school years, which were filled with other priorities, including sports, his job and spending time with friends.
Even as a teenager, however, Nyberg found that he had a deep fascination with what’s going on in government and in particular, how public policy is created.

“I was enamored with the whole process,” Nyberg said.

After high school, Nyberg attended Michigan State University, studying political science and pre-law.

While at MSU, Nyberg was selected for an internship with State Representative Craig DeRoche. This internship evolved into a full-time job as a legislative assistant to DeRoche, who eventually became House Speaker.

Photo of David Nyberg (right), his brother Erik (left), and his dad, Dave, at their family hunting camp on the Stonington Peninsula in Delta County of the Upper Peninsula.

As a legislative assistant, Nyberg immersed himself in the political milieu of bills, caucuses and lobbying, and he developed a much deeper understanding of how things work at the capitol.
“This is what I want to be,” Nyberg remembers thinking to himself. “This was the first layer of my career foundation.”

Also, around this time, while he was still attending school, Nyberg’s passion for the outdoors was reignited.

“There was this missing, empty spot in my life,” said Nyberg, who began spending more time up north, attending whitetail deer camp every year, grouse hunting and fly fishing.

Nyberg worked for DeRoche for three years, until the speaker position flipped parties during the next election cycle. Then, in early 2008, an opportunity arose to work with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs as legislative affairs manager.

Nyberg said MUCC at that time was in the midst of transitioning back to its roots as a basic hook and bullet-oriented organization, focusing more on what its members cared about.

The opportunity was very enticing to Nyberg, who would be working “in the trenches” to help set the club’s legislative priorities, vision and advocacy.

Working in politics, Nyberg said sometimes there is a necessity to compromise your personal values in order to achieve some larger goal. Nyberg said it would be different with MUCC, as the club’s values and goals almost always coincided with his own.

At the time, Dennis Muchmore was executive director of MUCC, which provided even more incentive to jump at the opportunity.

“Dennis is a master … an old-school Lansing insider,” Nyberg said. “I thought, ‘this is who I’d like to work for in 20 years.'”

Nyberg worked with MUCC over the next three years. One of the achievements he’s most proud of during that time is helping to pass House Bill 4371, the “Hunter Heritage Legislation,” which began life as an MUCC resolution to create a mentored youth hunting program.

The program was near and dear to Nyberg’s heart, as it directly addressed hunter retention and recruitment challenges — an issue he was very familiar with, considering his own lapse in interest as a teenager.

dave nyberg

Signing ceremony of the “Hunter Heritage Legislation” (H.B. 4371) with Gov. Rick Snyder and State Rep. Peter Pettalia in 2011. MUCC member Rob Miller, the original resolution writer for MUCC, is on the right with his wife Joy and daughters Julie and Jill.

Following his stint at MUCC and after graduating from law school, Nyberg moved with his wife, Tracy, to Marquette, closer to all the outdoor activities becoming a more significant part of his life.

“At that point in my life, that was what really mattered,” Nyberg said.

In 2012, Nyberg was tapped by then-Gov. Rick Snyder to be director of his Northern Michigan Office. While employed with the governor’s office, he also served as deputy legal counsel and tribal governments liaison.

Part of his duties included forming and maintaining relationships with stakeholders and conservation groups that operate in that part of Michigan, including Trout Unlimited, MUCC and the National Wildlife Federation, to name a few.

After serving the governor’s office for nearly six years, in 2018, Nyberg accepted a position with Northern Michigan University as director of corporate engagement. The same year, he was appointed to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, on which he still serves as vice-chair and is one of the commission’s youngest members ever appointed.

Nyberg said he sees the NRC’s role as diplomatic, in the sense that they try to be an unbiased arbiter between individuals and groups with sometimes conflicting agendas pertaining to the use of natural resources.

Nyberg said the NRC attempts to balance the biological and social realities on the ground using sound science and data. Nyberg said a question he often asks himself is, “Does the science support the decision?”

In this way, Nyberg said the NRC complements the Department of Natural Resources’ work.

dave nyberg

Dave Nyberg poses with then-Governor Rick Snyder on his last day working for him in April 2018.

While everyone has their own biases, Nyberg said he believes his role on the NRC is to check his at the door and consider all the information presented with an open mind.

To that end, Nyberg said the NRC must hear from a more diverse cross-section of the population, not just the same folks who traditionally have had the biggest voice in conservation matters, and who can also find time in their day regularly attend NRC meetings. Specifically, Nyberg said he’d like to see a few more young people on the commission.

“We need different perspectives,” Nyberg said. “We need to understand what motivates the younger generations and bring that perspective to the table. We know we have a problem with recruitment and retention, so we need to ask younger people what matters to them and what influences their decision to engage. We need to lean into that.”

Considering the impact the NRC’s decisions have on Michigan, especially the northern parts of the state and the U.P., Nyberg said they should constantly be looking for ways to improve the commission and how it makes those decisions.

Recent discussions about how to better manage steelhead fisheries in the state with the help of data collected by the fisheries division have been heartening, Nyberg said, but it brings up other questions.

dave nyberg

Dave Nyberg fishing with his daughter, Hazel, somewhere in the back country of Craig Lake State Park.

“What else are we missing?” said Nyberg.

Optimally, Nyberg said the NRC should be able to work collaboratively with state agencies, stakeholder groups and the public while also maintaining its independence as an impartial governing body.

“Making sure the NRC has integrity in its process,” Nyberg said. “It’s an important responsibility … authentically working to preserve and create more opportunities for access to natural resources by taking up public policy matters that will advance outdoor recreation into the future.”