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Outdoors: After 44 years, nation's longest-serving wildlife commissioner is stepping down

Wildlife Commissioner John Groendyke poses for a photo at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. Groendyke is the longes serving wildlife commissioner. [Photo by Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Wildlife Commissioner John Groendyke poses for a photo at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. Groendyke is the longes serving wildlife commissioner. [Photo by Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

John Groendyke, of Enid, is the longest-serving wildlife commissioner in the United States.

For nearly 44 years, the chairman of the board of Groendyke Transport has been a member of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the governing body of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. First appointed in 1976 by Gov. David Boren, Groendyke is a registered Republican who has served under eight Oklahoma governors in 44 years — four Democrats and four Republicans.

Groendyke's current term, which expires in July, will be his last. Gov. Kevin Stitt has already named D. Chad Dillingham, of Enid, chief executive officer and co-owner of Dillingham Insurance, to replace Groendyke, pending Senate approval.

In addition to serving on the wildlife commission, Groendyke also is a member of the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma, Quail Forever and Ducks Unlimited, and personally funds an endowed chair at Oklahoma State for wildlife research.

Earlier this year, Groendyke answered some questions from The Oklahoman about leaving the commission and his years as a member.

Q: How were you able to stay on the Wildlife Commission, a politically appointed position, for so long under both Democrat and Republican governors?

My focus was pretty well on the activities and the mission and the work of the Wildlife Department. I was never very politically involved with the governor or the Legislature a great deal. Most of my effort was with the agency itself and how it was doing, so I didn't create a lot of friends or a lot of enemies. I got along well with the directors (of the Wildlife Department) and they felt that I did bring value being on the commission, which I hope is true.

Did Gov. Stitt want someone else or was this your decision to leave at the end of your current term?

It wasn't the governor wanting someone else. I just told him after 44 years I thought it was probably time that I stepped aside. I had a good run. I enjoyed it very much. Taking on another term at age 75 that would run through when I was 83, I thought it was time to have someone new in there. I asked not to be reappointed.

In your 44 years on the commission, what has been the biggest change you have seen in the Wildlife Department?

At one point early in my time there, you had law enforcement, you had the fish division and you had the wildlife division, and they were all kind of separate islands that did their own thing. But I think today there is a real spirit of cooperation and joint effort, and the end result is what is important and not who gets credit for it.

What is the most difficult thing about being on the wildlife commission?

It's challenging to make everybody happy, but you try to hit a middle ground that they can all live with. … The last issue in regard to deer (the proposal to increase deer gun season from 16 days to 23), a lot of the farming community in western Oklahoma was concerned about deer depredation on cotton and peanut fields and they wanted a longer season. We heard what they said, but most of the other input we received did not support a longer season. The department decided to leave the season as it was but provide more opportunity to take antlerless deer during the seasons we currently have.

It is just coming up with a result that tries to represent everybody as best you can. Hopefully, you come up with the choices that are best for Oklahoma.

What would you say has been your proudest accomplishment while on the commission?

It's like I tell people in the trucking business, everybody can buy equipment and do all kind of things, but in the end, it boils down to finding people who take pride in what they do and have a passion in what they do. I am pleased to say the Wildlife Department employees, the majority of them, they didn't take the job for the pay. They took it because they really had a desire to be involved in nature and wildlife and managing the resources of the state of Oklahoma.

I think we have the longest-serving tenured average of employees of any agency in the state. People stay until retirement and most of them, that is the only job they have ever had since getting out of school, working for the Wildlife Department. I think morale is good and we have been able to manage and keep good people.

What is the one thing people would be surprised to learn about the Wildlife Department?

There is still a lot of people out there that do not appreciate how we are funded. We do not gets funds from the Legislature. Most of our funds come through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses or through federal aid. I am sure that a lot of them don't know all of (the science) that goes into our fishing research and the things we try to look at to manage the fisheries and the work we do in the hatcheries. It's amazing how many fish we raise in some of the hatcheries in Oklahoma compared to the other states around us.

Do you see a day where the Wildlife Department would need to be funded by the Legislature?

I don't think so unless something drastically changes. It seems to be going very well with the federal-support programs based upon the number of licenses we sell and the geographic area of Oklahoma. It's coming up with the matching funds (for federal aid) that can be a challenge.

Do you think hunting and fishing will always play a prominent role in the lives of Oklahomans?

I think it will as long as you show them how to enjoy it and where they can do it. With a hunter, it's having a place to go. I think we've got a lot of first-class wildlife management areas that provide at least an opportunity to do it. I think the fishing is the same way. There is an opportunity if people want to pursue it.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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