The new head of the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks took a winding road to return to the state of his birth.    

Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced today in a press release that he has selected Kelly Hepler to serve as the next secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP).

Hepler currently serves as assistant commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), a position he has held since 2010.

“I’m thrilled Kelly has agreed to serve as our next secretary of Game, Fish and Parks and happy that we could help bring him back to South Dakota,” said Gov. Daugaard. “His wealth of knowledge and experience in handling complex issues will make him a real asset to our team.”

Hepler was born in Deadwood and graduated from Spearfish High School before receiving his Bachelor of Science in Fish and Wildlife Management from Montana State University.

He began his career as a fisheries biologist with ADFG in 1979 and has held a number of different research, management and leadership positions within the department. Hepler also served as a principal investigator for the Exxon Valdez oil spill from 1989 to 1991.

Hepler will replace Jeff Vonk, who has served as GFP secretary since 2007 and will retire Jan. 8, 2015. Hepler’s official start date has not yet been determined, though he should be in place by March 2015. Current Parks Division Director Doug Hofer will serve as interim secretary until Hepler begins.