Two ODFW Director Finalists Named

An internal and an external candidate are in the final running to be the next director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The names and qualifications of Debbie Colbert and Kaitlin Lovell will go to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission late next week for a final decision after a joint commission-Governor’s Office subcommittee winnowed two other finalists out of the running this afternoon.


Colbert is an ODFW deputy director who “oversees Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Divisions as well as the regional and field offices across the state,” according to a bio on the agency’s page.

Colbert has worked for ODFW for five years and the state for two-plus decades, including six years as an OSU administrator and nine at the Oregon Water Resources Department, and she enjoys wildlife viewing, camping, fishing and kayaking.

Lovell is the senior manager of the Science, Fish and Wildlife Division in the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services. She came to the Rose City after working for Trout Unlimited for seven years and was a co-president of the Native Fish Society.

The search for a new director began earlier this year when Curt Melcher announced in early January he would retire at the end of March. The agency’s Davia Palmieri has been ODFW’s interim director since April 1.

During an hour-and-a-half-long meeting broadcast over YouTube, Colbert and Lovell were lauded by members of the recruitment team, which included commission Chair Mary Wahl and Vice Chair Becky Hatfield-Hyde and the Governor’s Office’s senior natural resources policy advisor Geoff Huntington and tribal affairs director Shana Radford, as were the other two finalists.

Hatfield-Hyde termed Colbert an “exceptional candidate” who scored well on a number of categories that the commission and Governor’s Office are particularly interested in, and said she would be “very well prepared to lead a fish and wildlife agency.”

Huntington said Lovell had a “good sense of how to produce wins” and said he would be “very comfortable seeing her go to the next step.”

The other two finalists were Shannon Hurn, ODFW deputy administration director, and Jason Miner, former Governor Kate Brown’s natural resources policy advisor.

Hatfield-Hyde initially moved to present all four to the commission, but essentially, after some concerns about how long vetting between the Governor’s Office and commission might take, she withdrew her motion and moved to bring Colbert and Lovell to the full body for a decision May 10.

The public can send in questions via this form to the nominees through May 7 for a Q&A during next Friday’s meeting.

The search for a new director has been handled by Motus Recruiting and the state Department of Administrative Services. Around 30 people applied and 23 were deemed to meet the minimum qualifications.


Debbie Colbert

Debbie Colbert has served Oregon for more than two decades, working with diverse groups on natural resource issues, advancing landscape level conservation, and supporting resilience of Oregon’s wildlife, communities, and natural and working lands.

Since 2021, Debbie has served as ODFW’s Deputy Director for Fish and Wildlife Programs, overseeing fish, wildlife, habitat, and regional programs statewide as well as legislative engagement. In this leadership role, she has been thrilled to collaborate with ODFW’s many talented staff, hunters, anglers, tribal leaders and staff, volunteers, landowners, state and federal agency staff, elected officials, and statewide advocacy groups. In 2023, Debbie served three months on special assignment to the Governor’s Natural Resource Office.

Previously, Debbie served six years as the Board of Trustees administrator at Oregon State University. Before that, she worked for five years as ODFW’s Deputy Director for Administration. During this time, her collaborative efforts resolved significant budget challenges and resulted in a decade of financial stability for the agency. Debbie also served nine years at the Oregon Water Resources Department in roles such as Field Services Administrator, Senior Policy Coordinator, and Policy Analyst.

Debbie earned a B.S. in Biology, M.S. in Oceanography, and Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Oceanography. She was selected as a 2022 National Conservation Leadership Fellow.

Debbie is passionate about working with diverse groups to advance Oregon’s fish, wildlife, and habitat. In her free time, her passion for conservation is energized by outdoor adventures with family and friends, whether on the water, in the woods, or on the beach.

Kaitlin Lovell

Kaitlin Lovell has led the City of Portland’s efforts to protect and restore fish and wildlife and their habitats since 2007. Ms. Lovell has strategically transformed degraded waterways, resolved competing land uses, protected fish and wildlife against acute climate impacts, and centered frontline communities, especially Indigenous communities, in fish and wildlife management.

Prior to working for Portland, Ms. Lovell worked as an attorney for Trout Unlimited on salmon recovery, hydropower, and hatchery issues throughout Oregon and the West Coast. Passionate about protecting and restoring Oregon’s fish and wildlife, she volunteers on non-profits boards, including in leadership roles, to help solve fish, wildlife, and water challenges across Oregon.

A lifelong resident of rural places, including 22 years on her Colton area farm with her husband and son, she knows firsthand the challenges and rewards of living with wildlife, adapting to climate change, and the critical role of working lands in habitat protection and restoration. Her leadership managing fish and wildlife in highly degraded habitats coupled with her efforts at home and across Oregon allow her to bring successful, climate forward strategies to every corner of the state, bridge urban and rural divides, work collaboratively with Tribes, government, private, and non-profit partners, and bring new voices and partnerships to restore fish and wildlife for future generations.

Ms. Lovell is a graduate of Bucknell University’s environmental science program and Cornell Law School, with legal expertise in the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.