© 2024 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Debbie Colbert named first woman to lead Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Debbie Colbert
Courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Debbie Colbert

An insider at Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has been named the agency’s next leader.

Debbie Colbert was unanimously chosen in a vote late Friday afternoon by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Colbert is a deputy director at the agency, leading its fish and wildlife programs, and has spent much of her career working in natural resources in the state.

She’ll replace Curt Melcher, who’s been director since 2015. He retired in April after four decades at the agency.

“Debbie Colbert brings the breadth of experience needed to lead this agency forward,” Gov. Tina Kotek said in a written statement Friday. “She is known for collaboration and taking challenges head on to improve critical fish and wildlife habitats in Oregon.”

Colbert is the first woman to lead ODFW, but in another key way represents a continuation of tradition: the Fish and Wildlife Commission has a long history of appointing agency staff, and of renewing their four-year terms.

Colbert was up against Kaitlin Lovell, a scientist and attorney who manages the Fish and Wildlife Division at Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, and who was the preferred pick of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“For too long the department has concentrated its resources on hunting and fishing, neglecting animals that aren’t of interest as targets. With the extinction crisis and climate breakdown getting worse every day, that won’t fly anymore,” the nonprofit advocacy group wrote in an email a day before the Fish and Wildlife Commission met to vote on ODFW’s next leader.

The Center for Biological Diversity said it endorsed Lovell as an outsider with a track record of conservation.

Colbert emphasized her own commitment to conservation during an hourslong meeting in which she and Lovell responded to questions submitted by ODFW staff Friday, ahead of the commission’s vote.

“I will continue to bring a sense of urgency on delivering results in the face of growing complexity and challenges,” Colbert said in an opening statement to the commission. “I am also very committed to positioning the agency so it engages all Oregonians. Our tent extends to everyone who wants to protect and enhance fish, wildlife and their habitats.”

Before joining ODFW, Colbert worked for the Oregon Water Resources Department. She holds a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary oceanography and was a 2022 National Conservation Leadership Fellow.

ODFW runs fish hatcheries, issues fishing and hunting licenses, and protects and restores habitat for northwest fish and animal species. The agency employs 1,200 people in 33 offices across the state.

Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Courtney Sherwood