FWP seeks chief warden after months of turnover
(Missoula Current) Turmoil continues in the law enforcement division of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, but the previous chief has finally reached a legal agreement to leave the department.
Earlier this week, FWP director Hank Worsech sent an email to all wardens announcing that Dave Loewen would be retiring from the department on Nov. 22.
Loewen was the chief of law enforcement until July when he was relieved of his position. Sources close to FWP said the announcement indicates that Loewen has worked out an agreement with FWP where he retires with a separation payment and likely a non-disparagement agreement.
On July 12, Worsech sent out an email saying Loewen was “out of the office” and that Assistant Chief JD Douglas would be the acting chief. At that point, some in law enforcement questioned Worsech’s claim that Loewen was just out of the office because Loewen had reportedly been required to surrender his weapon and vehicle.
About a month later, there was another changeover. On Aug. 22, Worsech sent an email announcing that Douglas was “out of the office,” and that Ron Howell would be the new acting chief.
That was a week after Worsech announced he’d be shutting down the department’s Special Investigations Unit that had been based in Helena for about 18 months. Prior to being assigned as acting chief, Douglas had been the captain of that team of law enforcement professionals that cracked some big wildlife poaching cases.
When Douglas moved up to acting chief in July, that left Justin Gibson as lieutenant of the Special Investigations Unit. While he was on leave in August, the unit disbanded and Gibson is also reportedly “out of the office.”
Sources say both Douglas and Gibson are also in personnel negotiations with FWP.
On Tuesday, Worsech announced that Region 1 supervisor Lee Anderson would be the acting warden chief instead of Howell as of Nov. 4, but he would do so from Kalispell.
Anderson was the Region 1 warden chief until supervisor Jim Williams retired in April. In the meantime, FWP is “recruiting for the Chief of Enforcement position,” Worsech wrote.
Sources close to FWP said Howell is likely no longer acting chief because he is applying for the position.
FWP spokesman Greg Lemon declined comment.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.