FRANKFORT, Ky. – The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Commission has unanimously selected retired Natural Resources Conservation Service executive Gregory Johnson of Lexington to lead the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources as its next Commissioner.
The Commission took the action at a special called meeting Friday, May 2, at Fish and Wildlife Headquarters in Frankfort.
Johnson, 58, will begin work May 16. A lifetime hunter, angler and outdoorsman, he will become only the eighth commissioner in the department’s 70-year history.
A 1979 graduate of Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) with a Bachelor of Science Degree in wildlife management and minors in fisheries biology and chemistry, Johnson retired in 2011 after more than 30 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS assists farmers and other land owners, including governments and other federal agencies, in maintaining healthy and productive working landscapes.
“We are extremely pleased to offer Greg this opportunity and that he has accepted,” said Commission Chairman Stuart Ray. “The Commission conducted an exhaustive and thorough six-month-long nationwide search to find the right person to head one of this country’s premier fish and wildlife agencies. And that is precisely what we accomplished.
“Greg comes to us with a unique combination of a solid resource professional background, years of successful executive leadership experience, and is a lifetime hunter, angler and outdoorsman,” Ray said.
Johnson grew up farming in the northern Illinois community of Wasco. He graduated St. Charles High School and became a fishing guide in northern Wisconsin helping clients pursue northern pike and walleye. A client from Eastern Kentucky University suggested Johnson come to Kentucky to pursue his education.
He began his career with the U.S. Forest Service research station in Berea working with Kentucky and Appalachia coal companies researching effective and efficient methods of reclaiming strip mines.
He soon moved to the USDA’s Soil Conservation Service, the predecessor to today’s NRCS, as district conservationist for Wayne, McCreary and Russell counties. In 1990, he assumed area conservationist duties for 28 counties and administrative responsibilities for 27 field offices. He supervised a diverse staff of program and technical experts, and 17 district conservationists. Subsequently, he would serve as the NRCS State Resource Specialist for Kentucky and then another eight years in the same capacity for the eight-state Midwest region.
His selection to USDA’s Senior Executive Development Program took him to Washington D.C. in 2004. There he served in multiple USDA-NRCS Conservation, Technical, and Financial senior executive level director positions until he retired in 2011.
As director of the Financial Assistance Program Division, he was responsible for an annual appropriation in excess of $1 billion, helping farmers and ranchers across the country plan and implement conservation practices.
“Kentucky’s hunting and fishing heritage is among the richest anywhere,” said Johnson, “I am excited to become a part of that. This agency’s wildlife and fisheries successes are well recognized among professionals everywhere, and I am looking forward to continuing and building upon those traditions.
“This is not just work or a job for me,” he said. “Fish and wildlife conservation is what I have been committed to my whole life. It is what I do. It is who I am.”
Johnson lives in Lexington with his wife, Melynda. His daughter, Kendra, is a Tates Creek Middle School teacher and girls basketball coach. His son, Ryan, is completing the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training Academy to become a University of Kentucky police officer.