By SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
For the Hungry Horse News
Mike Hensler, a longtime fisheries biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is the new regional fisheries manager in Northwest Montana.
Hensler began serving as the FWP Region 1 fisheries manager, based in Kalispell, on July 1.
“Mike has been one of FWP’s emerging leaders for a long time when it comes to both native fish conservation and recreational angling, and we are fortunate to have him step into this important leadership role,” FWP Region 1 Supervisor Jim Williams said.
Hensler is replacing Mark Deleray, another longtime FWP employee who moved to Bozeman to serve as the agency’s Region 3 supervisor. Deleray served 26 years in Region 1, including four years as fisheries manager.
Hensler, a 1979 graduate of Flathead High School, has 28 years of experience as a fisheries biologist for FWP. Since 1992, he has led the management of operations at FWP’s office in the Libby area.
He received the American Fisheries Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his leadership in the Columbia Basin redband trout status and recovery planning efforts.
“The work we’ve done with the redband (rainbow) trout over the last 20 years has been pretty special for me,” Hensler said. “It is the only rainbow trout that is native to Montana. We’ve been able to improve our knowledge of their range and that is our goal going forward in the next two decades - promoting native fish in Northwest Montana.”
Hensler also received FWP Fisheries Division awards for contributing to the Statewide Fisheries Management Plan in 2013 and for helping to manage the winter-long detoxification of the difficult Kilbrennan Lake rehabilitation project in 2007. He has extensive experience working collaboratively with local, state, federal and tribal entities, as well as multi-national governments.
He has collaborated with his counterparts in British Columbia in the East and West Kootenai River drainage to manage fisheries in Lake Koocanusa and Kootenai River downstream of Libby Dam.
As FWP’s regional fisheries manager, Hensler said his overarching goal is to protect and maintain native fish species to the greatest extent possible and, where it is viable, manage recreational harvest fisheries that include many non-native species.
“It is my job to help my staff complete the necessary survey and inventory to make the best management decisions for the fish species in each waterbody or drainage in Northwest Montana,” Hensler said. “Much of that includes maintaining positive and open relationships with our very diverse angling public, organizations and government agencies.”
The selection committee for the fisheries manager position included officials from FWP, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Avista.
Hensler was born in Malta and his family moved around Montana and North Dakota before settling into Kalispell in 1973. His father, Robert Hensler, also worked as a wildlife biologist for the Forest Service in the Flathead National Forest and with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Hensler attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in biology in 1983.
He received a bachelor of science degree in wildlife and fisheries management from Montana State University in 1985 and a master of science degree in wildlife and fisheries management from MSU in 1987.
In college, Hensler worked seasonally as an FWP fisheries fieldworker in Kalispell, Bozeman and Libby before being hired as a full-time biologist in 1990.
“For as long as I can remember I wanted to work with fish,” Hensler said. “In high school, I got a chance to ride in the Dolly Varden, an old wooden mast and boom research vessel, with FWP fisheries biologist Laney Hanzel when hydroacoustic techniques were still very new. That was when I knew I wanted to be a fish biologist.”