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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Fisheries chief is placed on leave as FWP leadership shakeup continues

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks logo on the side of a department truck.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio

The head of the fisheries department at Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks was placed on administrative leave in mid-May. The Missoula Current first reported the news of Eileen Ryce’s ouster. Ryce is one of several FWP administrators placed on leave in recent years. Missoula Current environmental reporter Laura Lundquist shared her reporting with MTPR’s Austin Amestoy.

Austin Amestoy So what do we know about why Eileen Ryce was placed on administrative leave?

Laura Lundquist Unfortunately, we know absolutely nothing about why she was placed on leave. As far as I can tell, no explanation has been given to anybody in FWP. There's been a lot of supposition in some of the stories, but there's been no given reason for that.

Austin Amestoy And has Fish, Wildlife and Parks commented to you or anyone else on the circumstances here, have they responded?

Laura Lundquist No. As usual, a lot of these things, any time we've tried before, they will not bother to comment, and just say it's a personnel matter, and then we never really find out anything about it until maybe the employee talks afterward.

Austin Amestoy So tell us more about Ryce. How long was she with FWP and what did she do as fisheries head?

Laura Lundquist She was, originally in charge of the hatchery division, and then she was brought on in 2016 as the fisheries chief, but she was kind of one of the last division heads that has been in there since the previous administration.

Austin Amestoy Governor Steve Bullock's administration prior to Governor Gianforte.

Laura Lundquist Correct.

Austin Amestoy And you've reported on several departures within FWP through the sort of high-level ranks over the last few years, right? Tell us, tell us about those.

Laura Lundquist Yes. There's been a number. Most recently, Hope Stockwell had been brought on as the state Parks and Rec director. She resigned suddenly in December, this past December. Quentin Kujala had been the chief of staff. He was reassigned and is now the conservation director. Dave Lowen was taken off the warden chief. And, Hank Worsech was the director. He resigned in June, and, Dustin Temple moved up, and now he's been the director that's been making some of these decisions lately.

Austin Amestoy Is it normal, to the best of your knowledge, for there to be a lot of high level shake ups at state agencies like this, or is this pretty? Is the sense that this is abnormal?

Laura Lundquist For there is a sense that this is abnormal. There have been these sorts of things happened when I was, covering FWP from 2012 on where occasionally you'd see something like this, but this has been an extraordinary number. As of now, the only ones that are still in the upper levels is Dustin Temple and, Ken McDonald as wildlife administrator. He has now come back.

Austin Amestoy In your most recent report, Laura, you mentioned a performance audit of FWP's enforcement division that was released by a legislative panel last August that found low morale among the agency's wardens and some distrust with leadership. I'm wondering if your sources told you about the overall culture or atmosphere within FWP right now, amid all these leadership shakeups?

Laura Lundquist Yeah. The comments that I tend to get when people initially brought out the audit was along the lines of, it's not just in law enforcement, this is happening everywhere. And so recently, apparently, FWP has asked a Montana State University researcher to do an overall study of all of the divisions. However, she sent me an email saying that she couldn't release that to me, and she referred me to the division of human resources at FWP for that. So I don't know if we'll ever get to see it. However, one of the legislators on the audit committee had asked that human resources director to be able to see those results.

Austin Amestoy Once again in Missoula Current reporter Laura Lundquist. Laura, thanks for coming on.

Laura Lundquist Thanks, Austin, I appreciate it.

Editor's note: In an emailed statement, spokesperson Greg Lemon said the agency cannot comment on personnel matters due to privacy protections in the state law. He added the agency is proud of its employees and said it doesn't have any underlying staffing issues.

We're noting for transparency that FWP is a financial supporter of some MTPR programing, but we cover them like we do any other agency.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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