PIERRE — South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler will retire next month, Gov. Kristi Noem's office announced Thursday.

Hepler's retirement will be effective Dec. 15.

Appointed under former Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Hepler has been GF&P secretary since 2015 and was hired after serving as assistant commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from 2010 to 2015.

“I have been extremely blessed in my career to combine my love and passion for the outdoors with what I do for a living,” Hepler said in a statement. “The highlight of my career has been serving as secretary of GFP in my home state of South Dakota. It has been my honor to work with the department to provide sustainable outdoor recreational opportunities while cultivating stewardship and connecting people with our world-class outdoors."

Hepler was born in Deadwood and graduated from Spearfish High School before receiving his bachelor's of science degree in Fish and Wildlife Management from Montana State University. In Alaska, he started his career as a fisheries biologist in 1979 and worked in various research, management and leadership positions, including as the principal investigator in the Exxon Valdez oil spill from 1989 to 1991.

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“Kelly is an accomplished leader and has been a fierce advocate in the fish and wildlife resource management field for over 40 years,” Noem said in a statement. “He has been a dedicated public servant to the State of South Dakota since 2015, navigating countless challenges to protect our state’s natural resources.

No announcement was made about an interim GF&P Secretary or a timeline to name a new person to the position.