ODFW appoints first female director in department’s 137-year history

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For the first time in its decades-long history, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has appointed a female director.

On Friday, the Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously chose Corvallis resident Debbie Colbert as its new leader. She will replace Curt Melcher, who retired in early April after originally joining the agency in 1985 and starting as director in 2014.

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Colbert is the only woman who has led the agency since it was legally recognized in 1887, and officially became the Fish and Wildlife Department in 1893.

Kaitlin Lovell with the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services was the other finalist for the director position.

ODFW received thousands of questions and comments regarding the two candidates.

Last week, the finalists answered several inquiries concerning conservation funding, employee safety, the “rural-urban divide” and more. They also presented opening and closing statements.

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“I will continue to bring a sense of urgency on delivering results in the face of growing complexity and challenges,” Colbert said in her opening statement. “I am also very committed to positioning the agency so it engages all Oregonians. Our tent extends to everyone who wants to protect and enhance fish, wildlife and their habitats.”

She previously conducted fieldwork for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and researched nutrient cycling in Tillamook Bay. Colbert most recently served as deputy director for ODFW’s fish and wildlife programs.

In a statement, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek said the 54-year-old will bring the experience the department needs.

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“She is known for collaboration and taking challenges head-on to improve critical fish and wildlife habitats in Oregon,” Kotek added. “I am grateful to the Commission for bringing a strong leader into the role.”

Colbert will now oversee the department that employs about 1,200 staff across 33 offices.

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