Long-time Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) executive Kendra Wecker has been appointed the new chief of the wildlife agency by incoming Director Mary Mertz of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Wecker will accompanied by some familiar faces as she tries to solve the many problems of the beleaguered wildlife agency.
Two former chiefs of the ODOW, Steve Gray and Mike Budzik, will both return to the ODNR. Gray will become one of Mertz’s assistant directors, while Budzik will be an advisor to Mertz, Wecker and Gov. Mike DeWine.
“Gov. DeWine has recognized the problems with the agency and wants them to be fixed as soon as possible,” said Wecker. “One of his campaign promises was to restore wildlife professionalism in Ohio.”
Wecker had worked extensively with Gray and Budzik over the years, and been at their sides while working on a number of issues, said Wecker. “I’ve learned a lot from both on how to handle thorny problems, and to value relationships and partnerships with legislators, sportsmen’s groups, the Ohio Wildlife Council and everyday sportsmen. It is so important right now to bring all of the factions together to make the ODOW a responsive agency once again.”
Budzik had been an advisor to former Gov. John Kasich, but quit when ODNR Director James Zehringer shuffled aside many of the top wildlife officials and blunted an attempt by sportsmen and agency officials to raise license fees to help the cash-strapped agency.
“It’s nice to have people who hunt, fish, trap and bird watch and really care about wildlife conservation involved again,” said Wecker, during a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon. “My to-do list is a long one. There are so many things that we don’t have time to worry about the past. We’ll learn from it, and move on to the future.
Wecker is the first full-time female chief of the ODOW, although front office officials Vicki Mountz and Sue Howard briefly had interim status while a new chief was sought. Director Mertz is only the second female director of the ODNR. Fran Bucholzer headed the agency during the administration of Gov. George Voinovich.
Wecker has advised numerous ODOW chiefs and senior staff on legislative issues for all aspects of hunting, fishing, trapping and the shooting sports. She worked on many of the major projects over the years that affected Ohio’s sportsmen, including commercial fishing regulations, Sunday huntings and improved shooting ranges.
“My telephone has been ringing off the hook (since the appointment),” said Wecker. “It’s been so humbling, the well wishes I’ve been getting from people I respect. I’m delighted so many are happy, excited and relieved that I’ve got this job. This is my dream job.
“I want everyone to know that the welcome mat is out (at the ODOW), and the doors are wide open.”