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Willie Boats head tapped for commission seat

The head of Medford-based Willie Boats has been tapped for a seat on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, where he says he wants to help improve connections between Oregon's youth and the outdoors.

Jim Bittle, 62, of Central Point has been nominated by Gov. Kate Brown to fill the commission seat vacated since spring when former state Sen. Jason Atkinson stepped down after his four-year term.

Bittle, who has been at Willie Boats for 32 years and president the past 10 years, said he sought his first foray into public service because he wants to see more youth involvement in outdoor resources.

"I think we're losing it to cellphones and iPads," Bittle said. "It's all about the younger generation."

Bittle said programs such as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's first-time hunting tags and expanded Free Fishing Weekends are good ways to remove the financial barriers for test-driving outdoor activities. But he said he wants to see more emphasis on long-term programs for youth.

"It's not a dead-end start," Bittle said. "But it could be stronger."

Bittle's nomination is for the seat on the seven-member commission that represents Oregon's 2nd Congressional District.

Bryan Hockaday, Brown's press secretary, said Bittle was chosen for the post "because he was the most qualified candidate" of the nine members of the district who formally applied for the position.

Bittle faces a Dec. 12 confirmation hearing before the Oregon Legislature's Senate Rules Committee and must pass a Senate vote before assuming the four-year post.

Commission members serve at the will of the governor. They set fish and wildlife policy for Oregon, oversee operations of state-run wildlife areas and provide guidance and oversight for the 1,000-employee ODFW.

If confirmed, it would create the unusual circumstance of three commissioners with strong Rogue Valley ties.

Commission Chair Michael Finley, of Medford, is the former superintendent of Yosemite, Everglades and Yellowstone national parks and holds the at-large seat assigned to Western Oregon. Bob Webber, of Port Orford, was a longtime Medford lawyer who represents the 4th Congressional District on the commission.

Atkinson, also of Central Point, said he encouraged Bittle to apply for the commission seat and, if confirmed, Bittle can expect a roller-coaster ride that will be both an honor and an enjoyment.

"It's a huge learning curve," Atkinson said. "You're going to be exposed to the plethora of issues the commission gets to be involved with. Enjoy it."

Bittle was appointed president of Willie Boats by its founder, Willie Illingworth, in November 2006. Illingworth, who was a pioneer in the aluminum driftboat and powerboating industry that has made the Rogue Valley its Pacific Northwest hub, died the following March of cancer.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Tony Shaw welds on an aluminum driftboat at Willie Boats in this Mail Tribune file photo.