Kelly Hepler Elected 2019-2020 President of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies

October 2, 2019

The membership of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies elected Kelly Hepler, Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game,  Fish and Parks, as its new president during its 109th Annual Meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In accepting AFWA’s Presidency, Hepler reflected on the importance of state fish and wildlife agency relevancy and the critical importance of the Recovering America's Wildlife Act.  Hepler also gave thanks to the outstanding leadership and accomplishments made by the Association over the past year under the leadership of Past-President Ed Carter, Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

“It is an absolute honor to be selected to serve as President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). This is a crucial time for state agencies as we work to recruit and retain the next generation of hunters and anglers while maintaining relevancy. It also is imperative that we secure critical funding through the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act,” said Hepler. “I have complete faith that our conservation community will prevail. I look forward to working with the state and Canadian agency directors and all the outstanding AFWA staff in the coming year. I pledge to maintain a high level of excellence and commitment to continue advancing the conservation legacy AFWA has established.”

Hepler will serve as AFWA President through September 2020.

“Kelly Hepler will be a great asset to AFWA as President, bringing a great wealth of knowledge and experience,” stated Ed Carter, 2018-2019 AFWA President. “His insight through his years of service as a Committee Chair and on the Executive Committee will bring leadership that will be invaluable as we plot our course and work through the challenges of today.”

A native of South Dakota, Hepler began his career as a fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), moving into various management and leadership roles. In his role as the assistant director, and then director, of the ADFG Division of Sport Fish, Kelly's primary responsibilities were in the planning, staffing, and development of strategic operations, while overseeing a $50 million budget and 450 employees.  Helper has been Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks for over 4 years.

In addition, Kelly has extensive training and professional experience in the areas of communication, public policy, leadership development, and research applications. He has chaired multiple national committees that focus on fish, water, habitat, and administration of agency funds. Kelly has enjoyed over thirty years of marriage to Carol Riedner Hepler, who is originally from Wisconsin.

The full list of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies elected 2019-2020 Officers and Executive Committee:

President: Kelly Hepler, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department

Vice President: Sara Parker Pauley, Missouri Department of Conservation

Secretary/Treasurer: Gordon Myers, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Past President: Ed Carter, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency


Chair: Tony Wasley, Nevada Department of Wildlife

Vice Chair: Cathy Sparks, Rhode Island Dept. of Environmental Management


Jim Douglas, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission
Curt Melcher, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Carter Smith, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Eric Sutton, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Chuck Sykes, Alabama Division of Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries


Canada: Travis Ripley, Alberta Environment & Parks


Midwest: Terry Steinwand, North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Northeast: Paul Johansen, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources

 Southeast: Rusty Garrison, Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division

Western: Mike Fowlks, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources


The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies represents North America’s fish and wildlife agencies to advance sound, science-based management and conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest. The Association represents its state agency members on Capitol Hill and before the Administration to advance favorable fish and wildlife conservation policy and funding and works to ensure that all entities work collaboratively on the most important issues. The Association also provides member agencies with coordination services on cross-cutting as well as species-based programs that range from birds, fish habitat and energy development to climate change, wildlife action plans, conservation education, leadership training and international relations. Working together, the Association’s member agencies are ensuring that North American fish and wildlife management has a clear and collective voice.