Hay grower and former Okanogan County commissioner Donald “Bud” Hover, who has Yakima Valley ties, was named state agriculture director Tuesday.

In announcing the appointment, Gov. Jay Inslee referred to Hover’s familiarity with a range of issues and his work to resolve salmon issues in Okanogan, Chelan and Douglas counties.

“Bud’s experience as a rancher and his work on issues from water to wildlife will be invaluable in further growing this vital industry,” Inslee said.

Hover grew up in Issaquah and graduated from Washington State University, where he played linebacker under the late coach Jim Sweeney. He graduated in 1977 with a degree in agriculture education and was drafted in the eighth round by the Washington Redskins, where he played two years. He was released by the Redskins early in his third season and finished that season with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League before retiring.

Hover and his wife subsequently purchased his father-in-law’s Winthrop ranch.

Inslee’s selection surprised some in the industry, who said it was a well-kept secret.

Hover, 58, succeeds Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside who held the position for four years and had wide support within the industry to continue in the post. Hover said the secrecy was a nod to the job Newhouse did as agriculture director.

“I believe it had a lot to do with the respect people have for Dan,” Hover said in a telephone interview, adding that he met with Newhouse on Tuesday morning. “I can’t say enough good about him.”

Hover’s parents graduated from Zillah High School and he worked one summer during his grandfather’s cherry harvest. Two cousins still farm east of Zillah.

John Stuhlmiller, now chief executive officer for the Washington State Farm Bureau, said he worked with Hover on salmon issues in the Okanogan-Chelan area several years ago during the formation of a salmon recovery plan for the region.

“We wish Bud well. The industry needs him to do a good job as director and have that perspective of agriculture and how important it is,” Stuhlmiller said. “If he keeps that at heart, we hold out great hope that he will do a good job.”

Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey, a farmer in the Toppenish area, said he would have preferred to see Newhouse continue in the post. But Bouchey said he has worked with Hover on issues affecting counties statewide and described him as a “moderate.”

“He is an excellent choice as agriculture director. He will represent agriculture interests well from the big picture,” Bouchey said. “It’s a fine choice.”

Hover, who takes over the post April 1, said he wants to meet with agency staff to learn about the current status of issues facing the industry.

“Obviously, agriculture is huge part of the economy in this state. It’s been a huge part of my life in what I do, what my son does, and my family,” he said. “I want to be an advocate for agriculture, move agriculture forward, expand possibilities and address the issues.”

Hover’s family operates a 2,300-acre hay and cattle ranch in Winthrop, north of Chelan. Hover’s son is a part of the farming operation.

Hover said his background with issues surrounding salmon recovery and protecting habitat will be helpful in his new job. He is the current chairman of the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board, created 14 years ago to provide state and federal grant funds to improve habitat for fish.

In addition to representing local government on the five-member board, Hover, a Republican, served eight years as a county commissioner. He lost his bid for a third term in a narrow 10-vote defeat last fall in an election during which the county Republican Party endorsed his Republican opponent. Hover said at the time that party leaders and Farm Bureau officials thought he worked too closely with environmentalists.

“I was told I was too green,” he said to the MethowGrist, a blog, after the election.

Inslee made reference to Hover’s work to resolve salmon issues in Okanogan, Chelan and Douglas counties in his announcement of Hover’s selection.

“Bud’s experience as a rancher and his work on issues from water to wildlife will be invaluable in further growing this vital industry,” Inslee said.

Hover said he had initially applied to be appointed to a position on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the four-state body that plans the region’s energy future and approves plans for protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife to offset the impact of the federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River.

It was Inslee’s senior staff that asked if Hover would consider another position in the administration, which turned out to be agriculture.

“I thought about it a bit and the impact I could have as an advocate for agriculture in this administration, and I said I would consider it.

He said he was offered and accepted the position last Friday, the same day Newhouse was told he would not be retained.

• David Lester can be reached at 509-577-7674 or dlester@yakimaherald.com.