Legislature sides with wildlife commission in fight over commissioner

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Source: Kentucky Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Resources

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Members of the Kentucky House approved legislation this week aimed at ensuring the Fish and Wildlife Commission has the sole authority to appoint a commissioner and set the terms of that individual’s contract.

The bill, HB 394, is sponsored by Representative C. Ed Massey of Hebron and Representative Matt Koch of Paris and now heads to the Senate for its consideration.

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“Until last year, current statutes were interpreted to allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to choose the Department’s Commissioner and determine salary and contract details. This process was used to hire multiple commissioners as recently as 2019,” Massey said. “However, we find ourselves in a position where we need to clarify who does what, and how we can best represent the needs and values of our sportsmen and women.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources was established to conserve, protect, and enhance Kentucky’s fish and wildlife resources with the goal of providing outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, boating, shooting sports, wildlife viewing, and related activities.

The Department’s leadership is provided by the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member board comprised of volunteers who serve four-year terms. They are nominated by licensed hunters and anglers, appointed by the Governor, and confirmed by the Kentucky Senate.

The need for HB 394 stems from an ongoing situation that pits the Commission against the Finance and Administration Cabinet and Governor Andy Beshear.

In January 2020, the board unanimously voted to give Commissioner Rich Storm a new two-year contract.

Despite the Commission’s decision, the Beshear administration offered Storm only a one-year contract.

When Storm did not accept it, the administration stopped his salary July 15. While the administration attributed the one year contract to concerns about the state’s finances, Fish and Wildlife is funded by fees generated from hunting and fishing licenses and federal funds – not from the state’s General Fund.

The case ended up in court and a judge sided with Beshear, saying Finance and Administration controlled such matters as contracts by law. Beshear also noted the board has faced a number of legal issues, including questionable spending and other matters.

“We’re all tired of watching leadership positions like this become political pawns,” Koch added. “It’s commonsense to put the Fish and Wildlife Commission in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, they are appointed specifically to serve as stewards of those resources and they know best what the Department needs in a leader.”

Koch added the salary and contract would have to be reviewed by the legislature’s Government Contract Review Committee.

Lawmakers have eight legislative days left in the 2021 Regular Session and will adjourn March 30.