HELENA — Gov.-elect Steve Bullock announced Friday that he was bringing back a former Fish, Wildlife and Parks director to run the agency, a move welcomed by some critics and employees alike.
Jeff Hagener led the department for four years under former Gov. Judy Martz. He also held the same post during Gov. Brian Schweitzer's first term before he was replaced at the end of 2008 by current director Joe Maurier.
Bullock, a Democrat who is preparing to leave his post as attorney general to take over the governor's office, also named John Rogers to lead the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
Hagener will take over the agency as it deals with contentious issues such as wolf hunts, bison management, conflicts between landowners and hunters, and other topics that often lead to packed public meetings.
"It is really an honor to go back to an agency that I have a great deal of passion for," said Hagener.
Hagener said he recognizes there has been some adversity with landowner-sportsmen issues, and plans on making it a priority to resolve some of the conflict. "I think it is real important that we work closely with landowners and sportsmen and get everyone's input when we make decisions," he said.
At least one critic of the agency welcomed the selection. Republican state Sen. John Brenden of Scobey said he will vote for Hagener's confirmation in the Senate.
"I will say that Jeff is a very nice person, and I have dealt with him a lot," said Brenden. "I might not agree with him all the time, but he is fair, and he is very fair and nice to do business with."
The chairman of the Senate Fish & Game committee said he was intrigued by Bullock's move to bring back a director that was replaced by Schweitzer.
"I think it shows the independence of Gov.-elect Bullock. And, until further notice, I will applaud him for that," said Brenden. "I think it will be a step in the right direction, not that everyone is going to agree with him on every issue."
The Montana game wardens, who have campaigned for changes in work conditions, also welcomed Hagener's return. The group's lobbyist said they expect Hagener will be able to navigate the difficult legislative process — a must if employees are to expect pay raises or help on other issues.
"He understands all aspects of the agency and he will have instant presence in front of any legislative committee, which is very important with the legislative session coming up," said George Golie. "He has the ability to bring all sides together on any issue, which is very important given the strained relationships between landowners and sportsmen out there."
Hagener was most recently a senior biologist at NewFields, a natural resources consulting firm. He has also worked at the Montana Wildlife Federation and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. He holds wildlife biology and agricultural science degrees from the University of Montana and Montana State University.
Rogers will be the state's chief business officer in the Bullock administration. He has worked for the Economic Development Administration for 24 years, and worked for the city of Helena in the 1980s.
"Jeff and John are two of the best our state has to offer, and they are assuming important posts that will help protect the Montana we love and continue to grow our economy," Bullock said in a statement. "I'm happy to have them on the team."