A North-central Washington lifelong hunter, conservationist and former state Fish and Wildlife Commission member has been honored with a prestigious national award.
Jay Kehne’s longterm critter and community work in the region was recognized by the National Wildlife Federation late last week in the form of the organization’s National Conservation Leadership Award for an individual.
“With endless charisma and grace, he’s exemplified the best of the North American conservation model in balancing the needs of wildlife, communities, ranchers, farmers, and hunters and anglers,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the Virginia-based organization.
If the Omak-area resident isn’t busy protecting sagelands, he’s rallying support for deer crossings on Highway 97 in Okanogan County.
“I am truly honored to receive this award for doing what I love to do – help people find solutions around wildlife issues, and along the way develop lasting friendships with diverse groups of people,” Kehne said in the release. “When we accomplish projects for wildlife and their habitats that the people in our communities support, it leaves a lasting legacy for others to follow and continue the process into the future.”
After a 30-plus-year career with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kehne retired and went to work for Conservation Northwest before being named by Governor Christine Gregoire in December 2011 to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The appointment was controversial at the time given Kehne’s position with CNW and the specific seat he filled – an Eastern Washington one; he would later be shifted to an at-large statewide post – and it led to a memorable set of gotcha questions from a state senator from Kettle Falls during a confirmation hearing.
At the time, even as I fact-checked some of his bona fides, Kehne was eager to tell me about wildlife and rancher projects he was working on.
“Bottom line is I was a hunter and fisherman before I was anything,” he told me. “I then became a wildlife biologist and then a soil scientist and then spent 30 years working with farmers and ranchers. So my training is to look at things from a scientific perspective, but be sensitive to the very real concerns of ranchers and never never forget my hunting roots. My hunting buddies would disown me if I did that!” he said.
In the end Kehne turned out to be a solid member of the commission, serving for seven years until August 2018 when he resigned to spend more time with his family as well as afield hunting, hiking and fishing, he told me.
He is also CNW’s Sagelands Heritage Program lead. CNW is one of numerous regional and local affiliates of the National Wildlife Federation, publisher of Ranger Rick and other magazines.
“Jay is a humble guy, never one to toot his own horn, but between his tireless work ethic, skills as a project planner and manager, and unmatched ability to build genuine relationships with all kinds of people, Kehne has done as much or more for Washington’s wildlife and outdoors enthusiasts over his career as anyone I can think of,” said CNW spokesman Chase Gunnell, “from championing road-kill salvage laws as a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner to starting programs to help ranchers reduce conflicts with wolves, to his latest work leading the Safe Passage 97 project for Okanogan Valley wildlife crossings and collaborating with Central Washington farmers to support post-fire recovery in the shrub-steppe.”
NWF has given out its National Conservation Leadership Award since 1966. The list of past honorees includes US Senator John McCain and filmmaker Robert Redford. Other categories include organizations, volunteers, youths and partnerships.