HELENA - Shortly after Gov. Brian Schweitzer dismissed Jeff Hagener as director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks last winter, supporters threw a good-bye appreciation dinner for him at the Fox Ridge Golf Course near Helena.
A crowd of 250 people showed up. So many people came that some were turned away for want of a place to sit.
In the nine months since he was dismissed, Hagener has never spoken publicly about why or how he left. He maintained that silence in this story, declining a request for an interview.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer told the Missoulian State Bureau this week that he never believed Hagener was qualified to run the agency and was asked to leave after he refused to make changes Schweitzer requested at the agency. On this point, Hagener spoke out, releasing the following statement in response to the governor's accusations:
"I had intended to maintain the high road and remain silent through all of the changes at FWP since my dismissal as director late last year. However, I feel I need to respond to recent allegations. It is unfortunate the governor and new director have chosen to attempt to discredit me in order to justify their new FWP organization, which has raised a great deal of concern with the Montana public. I believe my record stands for itself with my education, work experience and numerous awards and recognitions I have received over the years. Additionally, it is interesting that with my apparent 'lack of qualifications' that I would be solicited to apply for other state Fish and Wildlife directorships as well as many peers asking me to throw my name in the hat for the directorship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.
"I was never told by the governor to reorganize FWP. (Schweitzer's former chief of staff) Bruce Nelson asked me after about two years into the first Schweitzer term to look at agency organization and assess whether changes could and should be made to provide more efficient service to the public. My understanding was that Bruce had made similar requests of all agency directors. We did undertake an internal organizational review as a FWP Management Team. Through that process Joe Maurier was the only one on the Management Team that was advocating for major reorganization. Ultimately, I made the decision that major changes were not necessary as the agency was operating quite efficiently. I did make some recommended changes which I submitted to the Budget Office (as per state policy) late last summer. To my knowledge my recommended changes were never acted upon by the Governor's office."
Records show that since Hagener was first appointed FWP director in 2000 by incoming Republican Gov. Judy Martz, he has won eight high-level awards, including a distinguished alumnus award from the University of Montana School of Forestry and Conservation and an honorary life membership award to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.