Dept. of Fish and Wildlife appoints new director

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 8/21/18

Kelly Susewind was appointed June 16 as the new director of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and was recently able to speak to The Leader.“I'm a Grays Harbor boy,” Susewind …

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Dept. of Fish and Wildlife appoints new director

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Kelly Susewind was appointed June 16 as the new director of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and was recently able to speak to The Leader.

“I'm a Grays Harbor boy,” Susewind said. “And I think areas like that and Jefferson County understand better than most, but we often need to emphasize to more urban areas that the Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn't just regulate how much you can hunt or fish. It's about preserving, enhancing and sustaining this state's wildlife and environment.”

To Susewind's mind, accomplishing this broad goal requires more than just his department.

“It's going to take all of us,” Susewind said. “We can't just expect this quality of life to maintain itself, without our active financial and intellectual engagement and awareness.”

To that end, Susewind has spent much of the past two months making contact with environmental stewards and community stakeholders to try and focus on forging and expanding partnerships.

“We need to up our game when it comes to collaborating with other folks,” Susewind said. “We'll find solutions when we can get landowners, citizens and agencies face to face around the same table.”

Susewind acknowledged the importance of discussions with farmers and developers, and among his earliest conversations have been talks with the state's Native American tribes.

“The tribes are co-managers of these lands, by law and by treaty,” Susewind said. “It does no good to fight with each other.”

Susewind asserted the importance of meeting with livestock producers on the northeastern end of the state, including cattle ranches, and pledged to involve other levels of government as well, from the state and its counties down to the municipalities and even more ground-level subdivisions.

“The Salmon Recovery Funding Board is on my list,” Susewind said. “And I spoke with the Farm Bureau my first week. To be honest, it's all been a bit of a blur.”

If Susewind seems like he is in a rush to get his bearings, it is because the Department of Fish and Wildlife has to meet its deadlines for the state budget within the next few weeks.

“And as you know, we've got a $30 million shortfall to deal with,” Susewind said, even as he noted Fish and Wildlife would be asking the state for “a lot of money, because that's what it will take just to get us back to the level of 'not very good.'”

Beyond that, Susewind is hesitant to offer too many opinions in the long term.

“As an engineer, I believe in collecting data before I make my decisions,” Susewind said.

Susewind received a bachelor's degree in geological engineering from Washington State University, and an associate's degree in engineering from Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, around which area he grew up.

Susewind has worked at the state Department of Ecology since 1990 in a variety of roles, most recently as the director of administrative services and environmental policy. He also worked several years during the 1980s as a private-sector environmental consultant.

Susewind accepted the appointment as permanent director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife following a unanimous vote of the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission, a citizen panel appointed by the Governor to set policy for the department.

At Fish and Wildlife, Susewind will oversee an agency of 1,800 employees and an operating budget of $460 million for the current two-year budget period, at a salary of $165,000 per year.

“All of the commissioners look forward to a fresh start for (Fish and Wildlife) under Kelly's leadership, particularly in the approach our agency takes to improving our working relationships with the Legislature, Native American tribes and the people of Washington to manage the state's wonderful fish and wildlife resources,” Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Brad Smith said. “We have an immensely dedicated, talented and energetic staff, and we are confident that with Kelly in the director's position, (Fish and Wildlife) will achieve the high level of success we expect.”

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