LAWRENCE — Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks secretary Mike Hayden said Thursday that he will not be Gov.-elect Sam Brownback’s selection for the job when a nominee is named today in Wichita.
Hayden said he was stepping down after eight years on the job.
“I feel real good,” Hayden told Wildlife and Parks commissioners at their monthly meeting. “I’m leaving the department in really good hands, and I’m very, very proud of that.”
Commission chairman Kelly Johnston complimented Hayden and called it a bittersweet meeting.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
Spencer Tomb, a past National Wildlife Federation officer from Manhattan, said he thought Hayden’s political experience helped him while running Wildlife and Parks.
“He got money for the Cheyenne Bottoms visitors center. There aren’t many people who could have done all of that,” Tomb said of the educational center that’s a partnership of several local and state governments, Fort Hays State University and private benefactors.
“I think overall he did a reasonable job. He was good in many ways for the state.”
Hayden, Kansas’ governor from 1987 to 1991, has been Wildlife and Parks secretary since January 2002. Gov. Bill Graves asked him to oversee the department when Steve Williams left to direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius reappointed him when she took office in 2003.
Hayden, 66, has hunted or fished in all 105 Kansas counties and has college degrees in wildlife conservation and biology.
He has been professionally involved with the outdoors since losing the 1990 gubernatorial election to Joan Finney.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed Hayden as an assistant secretary in the Department of the Interior. He later served as president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association until returning to Kansas to lead Wildlife and Parks.
A champion of the outdoors and natural resources since first elected to the state House in the 1970s, Hayden merged the state’s wildlife and state parks departments while governor.
He also began the governor’s turkey hunt in El Dorado, which celebrates its 25th year in April. It is designed to focus national attention on the Kansas outdoors.
While at Wildlife and Parks, Hayden worked to increase opportunities for sportsmen by lengthening turkey and youth deer seasons.
Programs helping hunters and anglers gain access to private lands have grown to be some of the best in the nation during his years.
He helped expand the department’s program of building and renting cabins at many state parks.
Hayden’s tenure at Wildlife and Parks contained some controversy. Many saw his ownership of a minority share of a Flint Hills outfitting business as a conflict of interest when he was appointed by Sebelius.
His move to change the opening of pheasant season from the second to the first weekend of November was strongly opposed by landowners and hunters. Hayden said he wanted to make the change to give more opportunity to hunters and bring more money to businesses that benefited from Kansas’ strong reputation as a pheasant-hunting state.
Some Kansas deer hunters blame Hayden for ever-increasing sales of deer permits to out-of-state hunters, a move largely mandated by the Legislature to bring more income to Kansas.
Supporters of some conservation groups wish he’d have paid attention to more than just hunting and fishing.
“I think he accomplished a lot and provided support for some good initiatives,” said Ron Klataske, Audubon of Kansas executive director. “We wish he’d have shown more leadership with non-game wildlife. It’s been kind of an orphan in recent history with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.”