ODFW commission picks Curt Melcher to run agency

ODFW commission picks Curt Melcher to run agency
By Kelly House
The Oregonian/OregonLive

February 13, 2015

Curt Melcher, a longtime Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employee who has led the agency on a temporary basis for the past five months, will be its next director.

Melcher, 51, has spent all of his 28-year career in the agency, beginning as a district biologist and rising through the ranks to become its deputy director before assuming the top role following Roy Elicker’s exit in September.

The state fish and wildlife commission extended an offer to Melcher Friday evening after hours of private deliberations in Salem.

It was the candidates’ fifth round of interviews this week, including a Wednesday meeting with Gov. John Kitzhaber — the same day Kitzhaber decided to resign, then changed his mind, only to change it again and announce his resignation on Friday.

Moments after accepting the offer, Melcher told The Oregonian/Oregonlive his first priority in office will be advocating for ODFW in the state legislature.

“We’re going into the legislative session and the swirl of politics is really putting our focus on that,” Melcher said, in a nod to the news Friday of Kitzhaber’s resignation and its potential ripple effect in Oregon politics.

When asked whether he thought the resulting political musical chairs would impact ODFW’s legislative agenda, Melcher replied he doesn’t think so but “anything can happen.”

A native Oregonian who earned a biology degree from the University of Oregon, Melcher led ODFW’s Columbia River and marine fishery programs before becoming Elicker’s deputy.

He beat out two other finalists for the top job: Ed Bowles, a fellow agency veteran who runs ODFW’s fish division, and Krystyna Wolniakowski, a former administrator for the National Fish and Wildlife Federation in Portland.

Fish and wildlife commission Chairman Michael Finley said Melcher’s extensive experience impressed the group.

“His depth and breadth of experience in the agency, his long time relationship with the legislature, his longtime experience as a collaborator with the various ODFW constituents — those all made him the best choice,” Finley said.

Melcher faces a year of tough decisions — a matter he discussed with The Oregonian/Oregonlive for a story this week on the agency’s uncertain future.

He’ll take over amid deliberations over the biggest budget hole in the agency’s history, a $32 million gap that has left agency leaders calling for job cuts, fee hikes and state general fund dollars to close it.

The financial uncertainty has left many agency stakeholders calling for a new funding model that relies less on revenue from hunting and fishing licenses. Melcher has acknowledged that need.

He’ll also oversee the rollout of major policy decisions impacting the department this year.

In the coming months, the state fish and wildlife commission will consider whether to remove Oregon’s gray wolf from the state endangered species list. And in September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will rule on whether the greater sage grouse should be added to the federal endangered species list.

Both issues will have big impacts in Oregon, where wolf and sage grouse populations exist side-by-side with ranchers and livestock, adding economic impacts to the list of concerns influencing any discussion of either species.

The terms of Melcher’s contract will be negotiated in the coming weeks.