Governor says Hepler will retire from SDGFP

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Kelly Hepler said Thursday it’s time for him to step aside after five years as head of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

Governor Kristi Noem announced he will retire as secretary effective December 15. His current salary is $131,687.

Hepler told KELOLAND News he doesn’t yet know who will succeed him. “I have a meeting with the governor before Thanksgiving and should have a good idea after that,” he said.

Word hadn’t spread before the governor issued the announcement.

“I recently tested positive for COVID and had the misfortune of hitting two deer with my vehicles over a 24 hour period. That last collision was a violent one,” Hepler said.

“Those events, added to the fact my wife Carol has continuing problems with her eyes, has changed my perspective on life. It was time to get some quiet time,” he said.

Hepler, a graduate of Spearfish High School and Montana State University, was assistant head for the Alaska department when then-Governor Dennis Daugaard appointed him secretary to succeed Jeff Vonk in 2015.

Last year Tony Leif stepped down as director of the GFP’s wildlife division and Tom Kirschenmann was promoted to replace him. Kevin Robling also was promoted last year to a new post of deputy secretary.

Noem recently announced deputy secretary Joel Jundt would succeed Darin Bergquist on an interim basis as state Department of Transportation secretary. Bergquist’s final day is Friday.

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