The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ mission is to conserve, protect and enhance Kentucky’s fish and wildlife resources and provide outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, boating, shooting sports, wildlife viewing, and related activities.
Fish and wildlife resources in Kentucky are public resources held in trust by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, for which Kentucky Fish and Wildlife serves as steward on behalf of the people. Each of us has opportunities to enjoy fish and wildlife in a variety of ways, and together we all share in the responsibility to conserve them, too.
The fish and wildlife resources of Kentucky are incredibly diverse, including nearly 1,000 animal species; a few dozen of these species are classified as game (animals that are fished, hunted or trapped), whereas most are not. We call these “Kentucky Wild” species. Essential to conserving fish and wildlife is conserving and enhancing habitats - the cover, water, food and space required for their survival. Because the department owns only a small percentage of the land and water across Kentucky’s 25-million acres, one key way it seeks to conserve habitats is through cooperative partnerships with other public and private owners of land and water.
As a public agency, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife serves all Kentuckians and others who visit the Commonwealth. The department is funded through user fees instead of state taxes. Its revenues mainly come from: licenses and permits for fishing, hunting, boating and trapping; Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program grants derived from dedicated federal excise taxes on equipment used for hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and boat motor fuels; motorboat registrations; and other user fees and related grants. A new and exciting source of funding is Kentucky Wild, a program that individuals can join and businesses can sponsor to increase conservation funding for the tremendous variety of fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth.
Like other departments in state government, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is led by a Commissioner. The Commissioner ultimately oversees all aspects of the department’s operations, from budget and personnel to regulations and programs. Directly assisting the Commissioner in the Commissioner’s office are the Deputy Commissioner, public information officer, legal counsel and administrative assistants.
The Commissioner is hired by the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission - a board of nine volunteer anglers and hunters who serve to represent sportspersons across the state primarily by recommending regulations and approving department research projects.
To be eligible for appointment by the Commission, a prospective Commissioner must have, “knowledge of and experience in the requirements for the protection, conservation and restoration of the wildlife resources of the state.” The Commissioner serves for a defined employment contract term not to exceed four (4) years and shall be subject to an annual review by the Commission in closed, executive session; removal by the Commission for the same cause and in the same manner in which the Governor may remove a member of the Commission; and reappointment by the Commission.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, within the Governor’s Executive Branch of state government. Although the cabinet has been variously named by different gubernatorial administrations, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has functioned within the current cabinet structure and under the Executive Branch for decades.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is organized into seven (7) divisions. Together, they achieve different aspects of the department’s mission. These divisions include Fisheries; Wildlife; Law Enforcement; Information and Education; Engineering, Infrastructure and Technology; Administrative Services; and Marketing. Divisions are led by directors, who oversees their divisions’ budgets, staff and programs.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s staff numbers about 400 full-time and part-time employees. To most Kentuckians, its best-known staff are Conservation Officers (“game wardens”) - intensively trained members of our Law Enforcement Division. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has many other staff members who are also experts in their fields - ranging from wildlife and fisheries biologists, to communicators and educators, to engineers and administrative specialists. Numerous Kentucky Fish and Wildlife staff are regionally, nationally and even internationally recognized for their achievements and contributions to fish and wildlife conservation.
For economy and to meet seasonal needs, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife also annually hires numerous interim employees to work nine (9) months or less; these “seasonal” employees serve in such roles as summer camp counselors; angler surveyors (“creel clerks”); and technicians assisting with seasonal wildlife, fisheries, engineering or other field work or research projects.
Accountability & Transparency
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is accountable to the people and three branches of government in a variety of ways. One way is through hunter and angler representation on the Commission. Another is its organization within the Executive Branch; the department is accountable to Cabinet leadership and ultimately to the Governor.
Yet another way the department is accountable to the people is through oversight by the Kentucky legislature. State agency budgets are reviewed and approved on a biennial basis by the legislature. Statutes conferring authority to the department are voted upon by both the Kentucky Senate and House, and must be signed into law by the Governor.
In addition, regulations proposed by the Commission, and advanced by the Commissioner, are reviewed by legislative committees with jurisdiction over particular subject areas (for example, Administrative Regulation Review, House Natural Resources and Energy, and Senate Natural Resources and Energy). By statute, proposed regulations are subject to a public comment period before being reviewed by a legislative committee. Many department activities also are governed by federal statutes and regulations; these include topics such as regulation of migratory birds, interstate commerce involving fish and wildlife, and use of federal grants and state license and permit revenues.
By statute, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s operations are regularly audited. There is an annual statutory state audit on budgetary and spending practices, performed by Kentucky’s Auditor of Public Accounts. Because the department receives federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program grants, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General perform an extensive audit of the department’s use of federal and state funds every five (5) years. The department is legally required to respond to audit findings and, where necessary, address any areas of apparent noncompliance with state or federal statutes, regulations or policies, or clarify matters in question. Like all state government entities, agency documents that do not contain confidential customer or personnel information are subject to open records requests. Many agency documents are stored on the agency website, fw.ky.gov, or are available upon request.