Calaveras County Agricultural Commissioner Kevin Wright is making some good impressions in his first few months on the job.
Wright, 65, took control of the department Jan. 8 after predecessor Mary Mutz, a 20-year veteran, retired.
“It’s a little bit different (when) the buck stops here,” Wright said.
Wright’s annual salary as commissioner is $77,521.60.
Wright served as deputy agricultural commissioner for more than six years before taking the top job.
“He’s carried on what Mary Mutz has already been doing and has been favorable to us,” said Matt Hatcher, president of the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance. “I think we’re fortunate to have somebody who’s not just a team player but he’s interested in advancing us.”
Wright is a welcome visitor at each of the CWA meetings, Hatcher added.
The quality of the county’s wines is probably its best-kept agricultural secret, Wright said.
“They’re pretty darn good,” he said.
Wright said his experience as a fish farmer gave him insight that helps him in his government role.
“I kind of liked the culture of people who had rangeland and farms,” he said. “I learned how people feel at the other side of the regulatory process. I think that helped me in my career. It helped me understand where they’re coming from and what’s important to them.”
Wright joined the Peace Corps after graduating from the New York State College of Environmental Sciences at Syracuse University. He worked to promote the development of small-scale aquaculture projects in rural India before he returned to the United States and became a biologist on fish farms in Imperial County and Louisiana.
Wright started his own fish farm in Oklahoma, raising catfish for local markets and stocking cattlemen’s farm ponds with fingerling bass, bluegill and catfish.
After 10 years, he sold the business and went on to earn a master’s degree from the American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Ariz.
He started his public service career in Stanislaus County as a seasonal melon inspector and rose to a supervisory role in pesticide enforcement and weed management.
“The biggest challenge I think right now (in Calaveras) is invasive weeds,” Wright said.
Medusahead, a destructive grass which Wright has a sample of on his desk, is a particularly major threat in a county of primarily rangeland for cattle.
“They haven’t been able to find good control for it yet,” he said, adding it is a common topic for discussion between him and Scott Oneto of the University of California Cooperative Extension in Calaveras County.
Wright acknowledges his department has become lean due to recent year’s budget cuts and there is an emphasis and maintaining institutional knowledge of remaining long-time employees.
Wright said cooperation with the community and development of partnerships is vital to his role.
He cites a time when, one day, a beekeeper’s neighbor came to him with a complaint of too many buzzing insects invading from next door. The next day, someone came in with a desire for some bees to pollinate crops and Wright helped them connect and get the hive moved to where they were wanted and needed.
“It’s great when we are able to solve problems and help people,” he said.
Wright has a grown daughter and two grandchildren.
His various stops along the way have left Wright with a working knowledge of the Hindi and Spanish languages.
“I love this area for the recreational opportunities that it affords, the beauty of the environment,” he said. “The people that I meet on the job are salt of the earth. They’re good people.”