Native Havreite Jeff Hagener has been named director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the incoming administration of Gov.-elect Steve Bullock.
He will be walking into a hornet’s nest of controversies. To put it mildly, the administration of outgoing director Joe Maurier had been at the center of battles of all sorts.
FWP director is certainly one of the most difficult positions in Helena. While people may be reluctant to express their opinions of educational policy, state finances or health care, but outdoor issues are deeply ingrained in the lives of Montanans. We all have our ideas on fishing, hunting, picnicking and hiking, and no two people agree on everything.
Hagener has the reputation as a conciliator, someone who will listen to everybody. He served as FWP director under Govs. Judy Martz and Brian Schweitzer — talk about two people with different styles and policies.
Republicans joined Democrats in praising his selection by the governor-elect. FWP wardens welcomed his reappointment.
He comes from a Havre family known for its educational, community and political service to the Hi-Line.
He will need all of his experience and his composure to deal with the problems on his plate.
Many of the hottest issues on his plate come from his native Hi-Line.
Native Americans, especially those from Fort Belknap and Fort Peck, passionately want to see bison returned to their reservations. The buffalo has been part of their traditions and culture, and they were pleased to see Schweitzer support their cause, even as some Hi-Line state lawmakers called for the governor’s impeachment.
Many Hi-Line ranchers and farmers fear buffalo will spread disease and will destroy crops if they escape their enclosures.
The matter has been tied up in court, and some of the issues are now before the Montana Supreme Court.
At the same time, the proposed state purchase of the Milk River Ranch near Hill County’s border with Canada has stirred more controversy. Angry landowners opposed to the idea are blocking access to hunters on their property.
Similar problems are cropping up throughout the state.
Heady issues, ranging from blocking access to hunting and fishing to purchase of wildlife habitat, are likely to come before the 2013 Montana Legislature.
It will take all of Hagener’s conciliatory skills to calm things down and let his agency move forward with its goal of improving the state's outdoor recreational opportunities.
We think Bullock made the right choice.