New GFP secretary wants to work with landowners to provide better habitat
Kevin Robling is an outdoors guy.
He grew up hunting and fishing on his family’s farm in southwest Minnesota, and continues those woodsy traditions today with his wife and three children on their small cattle operation just east of Pierre.
But now, he’s more than an outdoorsman — he’s the newest secretary for South Dakota’s Game, Fish and Parks.
While Robling started as GFP secretary on an interim basis in mid-December, Gov. Kristi Noem announced that he’d continue in his role earlier this month.
“Kevin has a great understanding of our natural resource and conservation priorities,” Noem said in a March news release. “He has already done fantastic work to protect and promote South Dakota’s outdoor opportunities while balancing conservation efforts with landowners and outdoor enthusiasts.”
Robling started working for GFP in 2011 as a resource biologist, but was quickly promoted to work as a big game biologist in 2012. In 2017, he transitioned into a special projects leadership role working on multiple projects involving non-meandered waters and reducing barriers to outdoor participation. He was named the interim GFP secretary near the end of 2020 as the previous secretary, Kelly Hepler, retired.
On Tuesday, the Argus Leader sat down for a Q&A with the new GFP secretary.
Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
How’d you first get interested in an outdoors career?
“My father taught me how to hunt, and the outdoors were always a huge part of my life. We worked a lot [on the farm], and when we didn’t work we got the chance to hunt and fish — those are some of the most incredible moments, and I want that for my kids, as well. It’s a different place when you can connect with nature, and that’s always been a part of me.”
What ‘special projects’ did you work on in your previous position?
“The Open Waters Compromise was a piece of legislation that came out of a special session in 2017 and was further discussed in 2018. It was about property rights and the abilities that a land owner with non-meandered waters on their property has to mark it closed for recreational purposes. My job was to serve as a bridge — talking with producers and land owners to find compromise. Of the 246,00 acres of accessible non-meandered water in the state that could be marked closed, less than 5,000 are closed today.”
What will your job as secretary entail?
“I think a lot of it is about maintaining and building relationships with landowners because a big part of what this agency is focused on is habitat access — it’s the building block of wildlife management. The other piece of that is public access. I also work with our eight-member GFP Commission on a regular basis and the legislature during session. [GFP] wants to make sure that this great state offers great outdoor opportunities.”
What’s your vision for the future of GFP?
“Eighty percent of South Dakota is privately owned, and that means that private landowners are raising and feeding the wildlife. We want to work with them and we have to work with them. As a producer myself, I understand that profitability is a real thing, and that I have to make management decisions that put food on the table. [GFP] wants to help producers bridge that profitability gap by taking marginal acres — potentially that are in row crop production — and put those into perennial grasses with cattle as part of the working land concept. I think there’s a ton of producers in this great state that are looking forward to finding that balance.”