Jennison prepares for challenges

Three weeks into his new job and Robin Jennison is already facing challenges.

Jennison was appointed Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks secretary on Jan. 7 by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Wednesday, Brownback moved the Department of Tourism under Jennison's care when he created the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

The merger will become official in about 60 days if there is no legislative opposition. Jennison's appointment also must be confirmed by the Senate.

Gathering support could be his first challenge.

Jennison wants to dispel concerns of those who remember when he championed a law that allowed landowners to sell deer permits at a profit in 2000, something Wildlife and Parks opposed.

He said transferable permits were a compromise he helped broker between Wildlife and Parks and more radical licensing changes proposed by the legislature.

"I had different responsibilities then and I'm serving a different constituency now," said Jennison, who represented many western Kansas ranchers while in the House. "I'll always be on the side of solid wildlife management."

State statutes list qualifications for Jennison's job that include requirements for education and experience in outdoors-related fields.

Jennison said he's several hours short of a degree in animal science, but said his 10 years in the legislature, four years of college and a variety of jobs related to the outdoors have educated him well.

One of those jobs was operating a radio show dedicated to the Kansas outdoors.

"When I did the radio show, I was in about every state park and can't count how many Wildlife and Parks people I met with," he said. "I did the show for four years and I equate that with the same amount of time most people go to college. I have no doubt I'm qualified."

Jennison expressed concern that deer populations are growing too large in some places and said he'd like to find a way to get hunters more access to private lands to shoot does while not interrupting a landowner's desire to grow trophy bucks.

He's hoping to get more public access to more private hunting and fishing grounds by expanding the current Walk-In Hunting Area program. He'd like to see additional programs to improve habitat on walk-in properties, too.

He's hoping some special management, such as highly-successful dove fields, would get more people interested in hunting.

"If someone in Kansas City buys a license and has a good dove hunt, they might go ahead and drive out west later and go pheasant hunting," Jennison said. "It might get some people back into hunting and it might get some new people into hunting, especially the next generation. We need them for the future.

"If we don't have them buying hunting and fishing licenses years from now, we're in trouble."

Making state parks easily accessible and affordable, especially for families, is also high on his priority list. So is finding a way to improve funding for the parks.

"We're going to be looking at ways to do that and we don't know what we're going to do for sure. But we have to be doing something," Jennison said.

He said bringing the tourism department under the same roof as Wildlife and Parks should cause no problems. All will be mostly administered separately with the exception of his leadership.

Jennison said he sees increased hunting and fishing opportunities and state park improvements as key ingredients to expanding outdoors tourism in Kansas.

Though barely into his new duties, Jennison said he's pleased with what he's seen and heard from department people.

He pointed out while most state agencies took major hits from the governor's proposed budget, Wildlife and Parks remained mostly unscathed.

He hopes to hit the ground running, soon. Much of that time will mean being a liaison between the public, the departments and the legislature.

He's also hoping to get some of his new ideas rolling, too.

"A year from now you may not be able to see a huge difference," Jennison said. "But a year from now I hope you see solid plans to make things better. By then you should be able to see that we're heading in the right direction."