Tag Archives: kelly susewind

New WDFW Director Up For The Challenge Of Managing State’s Fish, Game, Future Path

If you were nervous to hear that some guy from the state Department of Ecology was taking the reins at WDFW – guilty as charged – you can breathe a bit easier.

Over the course of a 30-minute interview yesterday, I came away with the impression that Kelly Susewind has done a little fishing and hunting in Washington in his time and will likely give us and our causes a fair shake.

WDFW’S NEW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND HAS BEEN ON THE JOB FOR JUST OVER THREE WEEKS BUT IS A LIFELONG HUNTER. (WDFW)

“Basically, my life was hunting and fishing, and I tried to fit in everything else around them,” recalls the Aberdeen native about his younger days.

He took his share of upland and migratory birds then, but says his favorite game to hunt now is the big kind.

“Elk – I just love chasing elk,” he says.

A stint in Alaska put Dall sheep on his bucket list, while five or six years ago, a premo late-season Alta Game Management Unit mule deer permit taught him he didn’t always have to shoot the first big buck he saw.

“I saw four-points every day. I had never seen one without shooting it,” Susewind says.

And I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I now know a collector who might be willing to make a deal for your Remington Model 31 …

On the fishing front, Grays Harbor, the Olympic Peninsula and Washington Coast provided plenty of opportunity.

“I’ve really enjoyed Westport, but also the rivers, the fall runs of salmon,” Susewind says.

And while last Saturday he told The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN that he’s “drifted away” from fishing over the years, he says he wants to get back into it.

AFTER GRADUATING FROM HIS LOCAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE with an associate’s degree, Susewind (pronounced SOOS-uh-wind) went to Washington State University where he earned a bachelor’s in geological engineering.

He landed at the Department of Ecology in 1990, working his way through a variety of roles, most recently as the director of administrative services and environmental policy.

At 57, he decided it was time for a career change, one that might be a better fit with his interest in natural resource management – a “passion” fueled by all that time spent afield.

But also one that would put him on one of the hottest of hot seats in the state: The director’s chair at the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Everybody’s Pissed At You All The Damn Time For Something Or Other.

Which begs the question, Why in the hell would you even want the job, Kelly?!?!

“I’m still working on that answer. No, not really,” Susewind jokes. “I did pause, ‘Why would you jump into that blender?’”

There’s been a little bit of everything in WDFW’s KitchenAid of late, from hearty cupfuls of wolf management and court battles over furry fangers, to the everyday salt and pepper of salmon, steelhead and big game issues, to dashes of recent agency missteps and sex scandals.

Then there are looming budget battles in the legislature and questions about how the agency steadies its financial footing for the future.

“I see these challenges as something I want to be involved with,” says Susewind, who will be paid $165,000 a year to deal with them.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM TVW’S BROADCAST OF THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION’S AUG. 10 MEETING, SUSEWIND SHAKES HANDS WITH AN AUDIENCE MEMBER.  ASKED ABOUT HIS MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY, HE POINTED TO HIS ENGINEERING BACKGROUND AND SAID, “MY PERSONAL APPROACH … IS TO GATHER INFORMATION TO MAKE A RATIONALE, REASONABLE CHOICE.” (TVW)

WHEN FORMER HONCHO JIM UNSWORTH LEFT UNDER pressure earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Commission put out a help wanted ad that said WDFW’s next director would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

Ultimately, the nine-member citizen oversight panel unanimously chose Susewind, a self-described “wildcard” among a slate of candidates who had decades of experience specific to the field.

But perhaps they wanted someone who could see the big picture a little better.

“We’re a small state with 7 million people and a couple million more coming. There’s a budget hole to patch. We also need to look a decade or two down the road,” Susewind says.

He feels – as do a number of senior agency staffers and outside advisers – that hunters and anglers have carried too much of the funding burden since the Great Recession 10 years ago, when WDFW’s General Fund-State ration got cut by almost half.

It has yet to be fully restored, but Susewind et al are hoping to reestablish a better balance between license revenue and general tax dollars beginning with the 2019-21 budget.

“I see our outdoors as defining us as a state,” he says. “We’re at a critical point now – it could go either way.”

Susewind says he wants WDFW to be “more relevant to Washingtonians.”

“Anglers and hunters get it. That’s 1 million people. But there are 6 million more out there. We’ve really got to reach those people. If we could get the state as excited about the resources as they are about the Seahawks, it would be a better place,” he says.

WITH FOREST FIRE SMOKE CHOKING THE SKIES OVER SEATTLE THIS WEEK, SUSEWIND SAID HE WOULD LIKE TO TEACH THE STATE’S NONHUNTERS AND -ANGLERS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AGENCY’S MISSION TO THE HEALTH OF THE STATE’S FISH, WILDLIFE AND RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He wants to strengthen existing partnership, and vows to be “pretty engaged” with stakeholders, tribes and others.

Commissioners lauded Susewind for meeting in his first days on the job with livestock producers over a previously proposed wolf collar data sharing plan change that would have switched things up halfway through the grazing season, but was ultimately put on pause by the citizen panel.

WDFW spokesman Bruce Botka says there’s been an “obvious sense of encouragement around headquarters” with the arrival of the new director.

And after talking with him, you can’t help but get a little excited about Susewind and his program … before the enormity of the job sobers you up again.

SUSEWIND ACKNOWLEDGES THAT HE NEEDS TO get up to speed fast on one of if not WDFW’s most important roles – fisheries management.

With Aug. 1 his first day, he will have a longer learning curve than his predecessor, who was thrust into the always contentious North of Falcon salmon season-setting process almost immediately. That year saw outrage over the closure of a key fishery, and talks the following year dragged out more than a month longer than usual and cost us opportunity.

Expect Susewind to work more collaboratively with the tribes than that, if his quote in the Port Townsend Leader is any indication: “It does no good to fight with each other.”

As for that other subject that can make Washington sportsmen a little rabid – wolves – they’re “on the landscape to stay,” Susewind says, echoing WDFW’s company line over the years.

“The only way to make that work is have them compatible with other uses on the land,” he adds quickly.

He says the species has to be managed and that the agency is engaged with the lawsuit from out-of-state groups challenging its hard won lethal removal protocol.

“We really need to have a postdelisting plan put together,” he notes too.

That’s easier said than done, if a recent wall full of Post-it Notes outlining the process is any indication, but it’s also a start and one hunters will want to watch closely.

IN ANOTHER TVW SCREENGRAB, STATE WOLF POLICY LEAD DONNY MARTORELLO TALKS ABOUT A CONCEPTUAL TIMELINE FOR A POSTDELISTING WOLF MANAGEMENT PLAN AT A FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (TVW)

“In the meanwhile, we need to strive to meet recovery goals,” Susewind adds.

We’re there in the state’s northeast and southeast corners, but many more are required throughout the Cascades to hit the current benchmarks.

SUSEWIND IS THE SECOND WDFW DIRECTOR FROM the harbor. Phil Anderson hails from Westport and resigned at the end of 2014 on his own terms after five years in the position and two decades at the agency.

“I’m looking for this job to be my job going into retirement,” Susewind says. “I hope I’ll be here eight, ten years.”

That of course depends on whether the Fish and Wildlife Commission will keep him around that long.

And that depends on what he can accomplish towards improving the state’s fishing and hunting opportunities; safeguarding its fish, wildlife and habitat; strengthening WDFW’s budgetary position; and working with its host of stakeholders.

One thing’s for sure: Susewind has motivation to try hard.

“I’ve got a brand new grandson,” he says. “I want him to fish and hunt like I did.”

Editor’s note: In addition to the above two hyperlinked articles, here are additional stories on new WDFW Director Kelly Susewind from the Spokane Spokesman-Review and the Yakima Herald-Republic.

DOE’s Susewind Chosen As New WDFW Director

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission chose Kelly Susewind, of the Department of Ecology, as the new WDFW director.

KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

In a phone call immediately after the vote late this morning, Susewind told Commission Chair Brad Smith he was “very excited and very nervous.”

Susewind is something of an unknown and wildcard to Washington’s rank and file anglers and hunters, but the commission supported his appointment unanimously.

He has worked for the Department of Ecology for over two and a half decades, most recently as the director of administrative services and environmental policy.

According to a WDFW press release, he originally hails from the Grays Harbor area and went to Washington State University, where he earned a degree in geological engineering.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve the people of Washington at an agency whose effectiveness is critical to our ability to conserve fish and wildlife resources while providing outdoor recreation and commercial opportunities throughout the state,” Susewind said in the release. “The public has high expectations for WDFW, and I’m excited about being in a position to deliver the results they deserve.”

Pat Pattillo, who retired a few years ago from the agency after a long career in salmon management and who continues to keep a close eye on fisheries as well as advocates for sport angling, was very positive about the choice and the relative speed at which the process had moved along.

“I believe Kelly has the abilities to lead the department and communicate effectively with the many partners WDFW needs to be successful. Leadership from the top of the agency has been missing over the last two years and while capable managers for fish, wildlife, enforcement and habitat kept the wheels from falling off, it has been an agency without a head,” Pattillo said.

He said that Susewind will know whom he needs to establish relations with —  “the public, legislature, tribes and other management authorities.”

“It will take energy and, from what I’ve heard, he has that capability,” Pattillo said.

Rep. Brian Blake,  the South Coast Democrat in charge of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee which sees many WDFW-related bills, said Susewind had his “full support.”

“He is a lifelong hunter and I expect that he will be a force for positive change at DFW,” he said.

Fellow hunter Commissioner Jay Kehne of Omak nominated “Candidate P,” Susewind, for the position and was seconded by Vice Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon.

Susewind will oversee a staff of 1,800, land base of 1,400 square miles and harness a $437 million two-year budget to hold and conserve fisheries and hunting opportunities and provide scientific rationale for what it’s doing.

He also must deal with a potential $30 million budget shortfall in 2019-21 that could force the closure of the Omak and Naches trout hatcheries and other potential cuts unless the gap is filled by the legislature.

“He’s a good manager, great people skills and a real CEO type,” said Tom Nelson, co-host of a Seattle outdoors radio show on 710 ESPN.

Susewind’s soon-to-be old boss, DOE’s Maia Bellon, tweeted out her best wishes, “Congratulations, Kelly! Thank you for all the hard work and years of service at @ecologywa. We wish you all the best at @wdfw, and look forward to collaborating with you in your new role.”

When the Fish and Wildlife Commission put out its help wanted ad around four months ago, it said the next director would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

“Obviously the Commission wants to take the department in an entirely new direction.  Change is very difficult, and taking over WDFW is nearly as complex as taking over a federal resource agency, with many of the same challenges,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “We welcome the new director and look forward to working with Mr. Susewind on conservation and recovery of our fisheries, growing participation in fishing and protecting the jobs in the sportfishing industry.”

Chair Smith said that “the appointment marks the beginning of a new era in the department’s history” and spoke highly of WDFW staff and what they could all accomplish together.

Susewind begins work Aug. 1 and will be paid an annual salary of $165,000.

Nineteen people applied for the position in the wake of Jim Unsworth’s resignation this past winter. That pool was cut to seven in April and then three last month.

One of the three, Joe Stohr, who has been acting director since Unsworth left,  sat at the end of the long table as the members of the citizen panel made their choice known. He was consoled by Smith after the vote, and after Smith phoned Susewind, Smith publicly added, “Joe, you have all of our respect.”

There will be some who will be unhappy that, once again, a new director is coming from outside the agency.

Commissioner Jay Holzmiller of Anatone likened the panel’s last selection to “a kid getting cocky on a bike.”

“We got our knees and elbows skinned up,” he said before casting his support for Susewind.

One of the primary reasons for Unsworth’s departure was his handling of Puget Sound salmon fishing issues. Some hoped that the new director would come from this world.

“On the fish side, I don’t believe anyone thinks salmonid biology is (Susewind’s) strong suit but he’s a real quick study,” said Nelson, who added, “I think Susewind is a strong choice and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

But there were many issues that came to a head during Unsworth’s term,  which also suffered from the bad luck of coinciding with sharply declining salmon runs due to the North Pacific’s “Blob,”  the pool of warm water that has crushed several years of returns.

Mark Pidgeon said that the Hunters Heritage Council and Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation were welcoming Susewind “with open arms.”

“We think that he will make an outstanding Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. We realize that he is taking over a department facing many crises and he will have many difficult tasks facing him.  Both our organizations look forward to working with him to build a better and brighter future for WDFW,” said Pidgeon.

Among Susewind’s immediate challenges will be that looming budget gap, and as a member of WDFW’s Budget Policy and Advisory Group helping the agency navigate those dangerous straits, Pidgeon advised the new top honcho to “open lines of communications, especially to the hunters and fishers.”

“These users have felt shut out. The best way to bring more money in the coffers is sell more licenses, talk with us and see what we want,” he said.

Pidgeon is also on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group.

“I want the new director to know he can call on me anytime.”

Wanda Clifford of the venerable Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, one of the state’s oldest sporting organizations, also extended that offer of help.

“We are very pleased with the hire of Kelly Susewind and look forward to working with with him. We would hope that Kelly will have a better understanding of the hunting community and the number of hunters that put time and funds into our statewide budget. We feel that in the past the thoughts, needs and suggestions  from the hunting community have not been respected when in reality a large part of the department’s budget comes from the purchase of license and tags, and as a user group are often put on the bottom.”

With INWC based in Spokane, from where it puts on the annual Big Horn Show, and in the corner of the state where most of Washington’s wolves roam, you can bet that the predators were on Clifford’s mind as well.

“We also would like to see our new director work on the large wolf issue that we face here on the east side of the state,” she said, and wished Susewind good luck.

Editor’s note: My apologies for misspellings, etc., pain in the butt to report breaking news and reaction by phone on a weekend.