Politics & Government

Robin Jennison named to head Wildlife and Parks Department

Robin Jennison, the new Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks secretary, brings experience in politics and the outdoors to the job.

That's what Gov.-elect Sam Brownback said when he announced Jennison's appointment at a Wichita news conference Friday.

Jennison is a former speaker of the Kansas House who has professionally promoted hunting in Kansas, hosted an outdoors radio show and has hunted and fished for most of his life.

" (Jennison) is familiar with all aspects of state government and by virtue of his background he is qualified to become secretary of Wildlife and Parks from Day 1," Brownback said.

Raised on a ranch near Healy, in western Kansas, Jennison made a failed run for governor in 2006.

He left the Legislature after 10 years in 2000. He's since pursued several jobs.

Jennison helped start Kansas Outdoors, a venture that included a radio show promoting the Kansas outdoors for four years.

The company also promoted a pheasant hunting contest designed to bring more hunters and money to western Kansas.

Jennison, 56, has been a Topeka-based lobbyist for about six years. Clients include Phil Ruffin, who wanted legislators to allow slot machines at the now-closed Wichita Greyhound Park and other Kansas tracks.

During his tenure in the House, Jennison was known as a conservative who often supported issues important to Kansas landowners and agriculture.

That stance at times had him at odds with Wildlife and Parks.

Jennison was a champion to landowners and outfitters for selling more permits to out-of-state hunters so landowners could profit from leasing and guiding operations.

"I think Robin was getting a lot of pressure from constituents," said Rob Manes, Kansas' Nature Conservancy director of conservation and a former Wildlife and Parks assistant secretary.

"He was always passionate about what the department was doing. He's a bright guy. I think he can do a great job if he surrounds himself with the right people and listens to the right voices."

State statute says the Wildlife and Parks secretary should meet qualifications that include "education, training and experience in wildlife, parks or natural resources or a related field... "

Jennison has a degree in animal science from Kansas State University. Previous secretaries Mike Hayden and Steve Williams had graduate degrees in biology and wildlife management. Both had experience running wildlife-related agencies before joining Wildlife and Parks.

"We get to pay him the full salary while he catches up on things like the Endangered Species Act," said Spencer Tomb, a past officer of the National Wildlife Federation and Kansas Wildlife Federation. "(The qualifications) are there to ensure we have a secretary with education, training and experience. I don't really see that in a degree in animal science."

Brownback mentioned Jennison's varied background when asked about qualifications and predicted easy confirmation by the Legislature.

Jennison is confident he can handle the job.

"I think as far as diversity of qualifications, I have more than most people who've served (as secretary)," Jennison said.

He hopes to visit with high-ranking Wildlife and Parks employees soon to review the department. Jennison said he has no immediate plans for change.

"The wildlife side of Kansas Wildlife and Parks works very well," he said. "Those guys do a great job."

He said his duties will include helping bring some of Brownback's dreams to reality.

Jennison will be one of the lead people creating an annual governor's pheasant hunt in western Kansas to help publicize the state's bird hunting.

Brownback also wants to expand hiking, biking and horseback riding in the Flint Hills and other prairie areas.

"We want to have it be the horseback-riding Sturgis of America," Brownback said, referring to the annual South Dakota motorcycle rally. "I think it can happen. I know it can happen. Robin's the guy who can get this done."