Cal Groen, who for the last four years has led the agency in charge of Idaho’s wildlife, fish and management of its population of wolves, is stepping down so he can spend more time being an outdoorsman.
Groen, 64, announced Tuesday he intends to retire as director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and move back to Lewiston, where he spent the early part of his career with the agency.
Appointed by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to lead the agency in 2007, Groen said he is grateful for the chance to lead an agency he worked for for 21 years, but is eager to move into the next phase of life.
“Four years ago, I made a commitment to the commission to be director for four years, and I promised my wife. Those four years are up,” Groen told the Lewiston Tribune.
During his tenure, the agency planned and regulated the first public wolf hunt in the state in decades after the predators were removed briefly from the federal endangered species list. The agency has also played a key role in managing the wolf population, which has grown to more than 700 since being introduced to Idaho in the mid-1990s.
Groen said he is also proud of efforts the last four years to get more youth involved in the outdoors, improving wildlife habitat, streamlining hunting and fishing regulations and helping the agency become more efficient during an era of lean budgets.
“Cal’s biggest success is summed up by one word: integrity,” said Wayne Wright, chairman of the commission. “I think that is the legacy he leaves with Fish and Game as he moves on, and I think it has already permeated throughout the department.”
But Groen acknowledges there have also been some letdowns along the way.
He said it’s disappointing the agency has not yet been able to broaden financial support. The department is funded primarily through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and the state’s collection of wildlife license plates, and it does not get any money from the general fund. He had hoped to establish a “pay-to-play” fee for non-hunters and anglers who recreate on land managed by the department.
“Over half the recreation on our wildlife areas is by the non-hunting and fishing-license participants. It’s the user-pay concept,” he said.
The department has also lost three employees in helicopter crashes during wildlife and biological survey flights, losses he called the most difficult moments in his 38 years in the wildlife management business. Last fall, fisheries biologists Larry Barrett and Dani Schiff were killed in a crash. In 2000, wildlife biologist Michael Gratson was killed in another helicopter crash.
He also made headlines last fall when he and others were cited by a game warden for trespassing during an elk hunting trip last fall. Groen said it wasn’t intentional and believed he and his hunting partners had permission to hunt on the private property.
He took responsibility for his actions and pleaded guilty to one count of trespass to hunt.
“I made a mistake, we took care of it and the lesson I learned is be careful,” he said.
The commission has already started the process of finding a new director and intends to interview candidates as early as next month.