Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
|Conservation Management overview|
|Annual budget||$50 Million|
|Website||Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources Website|
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, an agency of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, is responsible for the conservation of fish and wildlife resources and for boating projects in the state. A commissioner appointed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission heads the department. The commission, which is responsible for department policy, is a nine member bipartisan body appointed by the governor from a list of candidates voted upon by sportsmen's organizations in each of nine districts.
Financial support of the Department is derived through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, federal grants and numerous other receipts. The department has a $50 million budget and employs 600 people. It does not receive money from the state General Fund.
The department serves as a steward of Kentucky's fish and wildlife resources and their habitats. Through management, it seeks to enhance wildlife diversity and promote sustainable use by present and future generations.
History of the Department: 1750 to 1944
The history of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources actually dates back to around 1750, when adventurous spirits exploring our state's uncharted territory found lush forests filled with game and clean streams teeming with mussels and fish. Less than a year after founding the Fort at Boonesboro, Daniel Boone was charged with the protection of game. But that abundance wouldn't last. With the passage of a mere 100 years, Kentucky's natural world would be drastically different.
As early as 1738, and again in 1775, deer protection laws applied to the territory that would become the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1792. Not until the last half of the next century, however, do sparse, sporadic attempts to protect fish, game and the rights of landowners appear in Kentucky records. In 1861 KY passed laws to make it illegal to shoot, injure, or kill any blue bird, swallow, martin or quail in Campbell, Kenton, Pendelton and Mason Counties. In 1904, the first Game Wardens were appointed by County Judges. The Game Wardens would investigate game law violations, and present their finding to the Grand Jury of the county.
By the 1890s, the unregulated taking of fish and game, whether for commercial interests, sport or the table, had taken a tremendous toll. In 1910, J. Quincy Ward, Cynthiana, appeared before the Kentucky Legislature with the sportsmen’s request for a game and fish commission supported by license fees. The request was rejected. Two years later, with amended proposal in hand, he tried again. After much wrangling, the legislature passed laws permitting the formation of the agency but neglected to provide operational funds. The division couldn't function until Governor James McCreary authorized a $5,000 loan.
The money was to be repaid to the state if the commission was successful. Only $320.71 was used and the entire loan promptly repaid. In its first five months, the new division took in almost $31,000 from license sales. (Five years later, license income jumped to around $41,000 and 1923 produced almost $70,000.) The division could only spend money from license sales, but the commission didn't have exclusive control of all license revenue. The division operated on a budget set within the Department of Agriculture. All license revenue exceeding the budgetary allotment went into the state's general fund.
With Ward as director, the new game and fish division had four governor-appointed commissioners with quasi-regulatory power. Their only compensation was expenses. The division’s duty was to “propagate the game and fish of Kentucky.” Major responsibilities were securing free fish from the federal government for distribution in Kentucky streams and enforcing game laws. Therefore, the division was divided into two sections: fisheries and law enforcement.
Game wardens were appointed and paid a salary of $25 a month, plus a percentage of fines in all arrests resulting in convictions. One record reports 190 game wardens in 1913.
The division also tried to replenish the depleted game supply, beginning with quail in 1916. Kentucky ordered 10,000 quail from Mexico, but all of the birds died in quarantine in New York, the only legal port of entry. In 1917, the division decided to try again since Texas had been declared a legal port of entry. Biologists figured the birds would have a better chance of surviving if they had less distance to travel. A much smaller order of eight dozen quail arrived in Frankfort alive, but before the birds could be released, all except three died. Since quail restoration seemed futile, the division tried pheasants. In 1917, the agency stocked 2,500 English ringnecks. This, too, failed.
The division fared better with natural restoration of Kentucky’s diminished deer herd. After a division survey revealed deer were almost extinct in 1915, the commission recommended legislation to protect deer until 1921. Future legislatures continued to prohibit deer hunting until 1946.
The division also began acquiring land to help conserve Kentucky’s natural resources. In 1931, the state made its first land acquisition and 1,604 acres (6.49 km2) in Caldwell County became the Jones-Keeney Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Seven years later, 1,288 acres (5.21 km2) of Harlan County land became Cranks Creek WMA.
Kentucky sportsmen, concerned about license monies being diverted into the state’s General Fund, formed the League of Kentucky Sportsmen  in 1935. The League gave the Game and Fish Commission a political voice. The gathering force helped bring about the Reorganization Act of 1936, which profoundly changed the way the Division of Game and Fish would operate. It gave the division exclusive rights to all monies derived from license sales. The division was also placed under the newly formed Department of Conservation. The Reorganization Act brought another change—the hiring of the first trained game and fish person to oversee the division's operations. The Vermonter accomplished much in his six years. As director, Major James Brown increased the law enforcement branch to 30, enlarged the scope of the fisheries section, created a crew for transferring fish from overpopulated streams to less populous waters and began the first real public information drive the division had known.
Brown left the division in 1942. Kentuckian Steve Wakefield, Shelbyville, served as director until 1944.
In 1944, the fish and wildlife agency, as it functions today, was born. At the insistence of sportsmen’s organizations, the Kentucky General Assembly placed the Division of Game and Fish under civil service laws and made it an independent agency of state government, thus removing the agency as completely as possible from political control.
A strong commission form of government was set up. The governor appointed nine commissioners, one from each congressional district, with selections made from lists of five eligible sportsmen submitted from each district. Staggered terms insured the bipartisan panel wouldn't consist of all new members in any one year. The agency director was directly responsible to and hired by the commissioners. The commission board made major policy decisions, with direction from the director and qualified biologists.
History of the Department: 1945 to 1995
1945: Division purchases experimental Game Farm for $12,575—for propagation of game birds, animals; experiments with trees, shrubs for improvement of wildlife environment. Nation’s first Junior Conservation Club program begins. Kentucky deer population is less than 1,000. Division of Publicity (Public Relations) and Conservation Education begins. Nine law enforcement districts align with congressional districts. Commissioner Earl Wallace announces the department will start its own magazine with a press run of 15,000 and a subscription cost of 50 cents a year. First issue of Happy Hunting Ground is published in December.
1946: First legal deer hunt (Jan. 2-14) in 30 years; $15 tag required if deer is taken. Big Game Restoration Program, cooperative quail raising project with sportsmen begin. Two wildlife biologists pioneer process of live-trapping wild turkeys for restocking. 181,153 hunting licenses sold.
1948: Amendment to Kentucky Statutes legalizes hunting coons with dogs. Statewide development of Big Game Refuges begins, continues to 1951. Legislature approves bill allowing fishing during the month of May (previously banned to protect fish during spawning) and raises the cost of fishing license from $1 to $2. First official documented use of aircraft to apprehend poachers. Kentucky hosts 10th Annual Crow Shooting Championship (June 26–27).
1952: General Assembly rewrites game and fish laws, changes name of division to Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Kentucky Afield radio show premieres  (15-minute weekly series). Experimental release of Great Plains jackrabbits in Mercer, Pendleton and Hancock counties. Commission orders closed season on all game Nov. 6-16. All netting operations in Tennessee River below Kentucky Dam banned due to widespread violations. County licenses eliminated; only statewide licenses available. Junior hunting license for under age 16 and 10-day nonresident license begin. 119 conservation officers employed.
1953: Kentucky Afield-TV  premieres on WAVE-TV. First color photo appears on cover of Happy Hunting Ground. Tradewater WMA land acquisition 724 acres (2.9 km2). Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources receives money from John A. Kleber estate to establish songbird sanctuary; the Department acquires Kleber Sanctuary 2,228 acres (9.0 km2).
1955: By this year, 21 public lakes are complete or land purchased to create public fishing opportunities. Fisheries project "Small Lake and Stream Investigation and Management" begins. Ballard WMA land acquisition 8,373 acres (34 km2). Conservation officers must have permission from central office to hunt first 10 days of any hunting season.
1956: Happy Hunting Ground subscription cost raised to $1.00 a year.
1957: First formal training for Conservation Officers given by: Dept. of Personnel, State Highway Patrol, County Court Officials.
1960: First spring turkey season (April 27–29) in 35 years.
1961: Buckhorn, Rough and Dewey lakes have 12" size limit on black bass. Trout stocking program begins.
1966: Happy Hunting Ground begins using color photos on the inside of the publication.
1971: Arnold L. Mitchell becomes commissioner. Amended Pittman-Robertson Act makes some funds available for hunter training.
1973: Minor Clark Fish Hatchery at Cave Run Lake begins operations. Muskellunge and walleye restoration begins in streams and reservoirs. Second CO dies in line of duty—Denver Tabor drowns July 20 in Ohio River attempting to save a 10-year-old.
1975: Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery opens. Kentucky uses part of federal aid money to produce 10-week television series on hunter safety and ethics, airs on Kentucky Educational Television. Kentucky becomes second state in nation to certify more than one million safe hunters. Yellowbank WMA 4,483 acres (18 km2) and Beech Creek WMA 1,260 acres (5.1 km2) land acquisitions.
1976: Modern deer stocking begins with mass stocking techniques and check stations. First fish kill investigation resulting in court’s acceptance of agency’s assessment procedures, monetary values on fish. Fisheries environmental section established. Formal training becomes requirement for COs; receive 160 hours instruction in basic fish and wildlife law enforcement at Eastern Kentucky University. 323,327 hunting licenses sold.
1978: Wild turkey restoration begins. Crooked Creek Study begins—multi-state research evaluating rotenone effectiveness. White City WMA 5,472 acres (22 km2) land acquisition.
1978: Carl E. Kays becomes commissioner. Wild turkey population is 2,380.
1981: Trout stamp debuts.
1982: Nongame Program begins; studies distribution and management of species not hunted or fished; partial funding by voluntary contributions through state income tax check-off. Osprey restocking begins. Wild turkey population is 7,000. First state issued patrol vehicles for Conservation Officers
1984: Statewide VHF Radio system operational. All CO's issued state vehicles. (Jeep Trucks)
1985: Waterfowl stamp debuts.
1986: Access site development project begins to improve boat and bank access for anglers. Upland Game Program begins. Fall waterfowl hunters required to use steel shot for first time in Western Waterfowl Zone. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife takes control of Frankfort Fish Hatchery, begins turning it into a state-of-the-art facility. "Museum" exhibit area disappears as Game Farm fisheries lab gets more offices. Legislature passes law giving conservation officers full police powers. Swan Lake WMA land acquisition 2,537 acres (10 km2) ($2,300,000). Annual magazine subscription rate increases to $5.00.
1987: Idea for wildlife education center on Game Farm is born. Law Enforcement uses mounted wildlife (deer, turkey) as decoys to apprehend violators. First fish and wildlife conservation officer training academy. Third conservation officer killed in line of duty—Robert C. Banker shot March 19 while checking a fishing license. Happy Hunting Ground outdoor calendar debuts.
1989: Conservation Officers granted full police authority
1990: Aquatic resource education program begins, provides educational programs, materials and learning experiences for every aspect of Kentucky's population. Ohio River Fisheries Management Team established. Division of Public Affairs established; begins comprehensive planning and public involvement.
1991: Otter restoration starts, continuing through 1994. Division of Public Affairs adds “Policy” to its name, helps department leaders make better decisions by providing information and developing processes. Hunter education course required by regulation. Divisions of public relations and conservation education merge, forming Division of Information and Education (I&E). Conservation officer entry-level requirements include college degree.
1993: C. Tom Bennett becomes commissioner. Peregrine falcon restoration begins.
1994: Becoming an Outdoors Woman begins. Division of Water Patrol joins Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Law Enforcement and Water Patrol begin cross-training officers. R. F. Tarter WMA land acquisition 1,170 acres (4.7 km2) ($357,381).
1995: Dr. James C. Salato Wildlife Education Center  opens (Oct. 1) at the Game Farm. Restoring Our Wildlife Heritage program introduces collector art. Kentucky Wildlife Viewing Guide begins sales. Fiscal Control renamed Administrative Services. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and Kentucky Educational Television produce hunter education classes for television. Waterfowl hunters required to use U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service-approved nontoxic shot. Tim Farmer becomes Kentucky Afield-TV host.
2001: Division of Water Patrol Regions Abolished, and all officers wear green uniforms. Recruit Class #8 members were the first class to graduate as Wildlife & Boating Officers. Use of Water Patrol Officer & Conservation Officer discontinued.
2006: Wildlife & Boating Officer title discontinued, Conservation Officer title returned to use for Law Enforcement Officers.
The District Commission System
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is directed from a Commissioner, but overseen by nine District Commissioners. Five candidates for District Commissioner are nominated by local hunters and anglers in their districts. These forty-five candidates (five from each district) are then chosen by the Governor of Kentucky to represent their district. This system was created by Kentucky sportsmen to ensure that both managerial and financial control of the state's wildlife resources stayed out of political control.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife has gone through a great deal of organizational changes through the years. Today it consists of eight sections: the Commissioner's staff, Administrative Services, Wildlife, Fisheries, Engineering, Law Enforcement, Information and Education, and Public Affairs.
Terms of Commissioners
- 1945 - 1958 Earl Wallace
- 1958 - 1971 Minor Clark
- 1971 - 1978 Arnold Mitchell
- 1978 - 1985 Carl E. Kays
- 1985 - 1993 Don McCormick
- 1993 - 2005 Tom Bennett
- 2005 – 2013 Jonathan Gassett
- 2014 – Present Gregory K Johnson
Since the establishment of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, five officers have died in the line of duty.
|Officer||Date of Death||Details|
|Game Warden Elijah Roberts||
|Conservation Officer John C. Martin||
|Conservation Officer Denver Earlington Tabor||
|Conservation Officer Robert C. Banker||
|Conservation Officer Douglas Wayne Bryant||