A native of Coleville, Wash., Pelican was raised in an Air Force family, spent his formative years in Iowa and graduated from high school in South Dakota. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and, during his three-year enlistment, worked as an operating room technician. He figured he’d go into nursing but, by the time he got out, decided it was not the career for him. He attended South Dakota State University and, in 1983, graduated with a degree in biology, with an emphasis in horticulture. His first position out of college was with a nursery in Huron, S.D. He worked for a few other companies and was self-employed for a time as a landscape designer.
He moved to California in 1997 and worked as a contract forester for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. He later joined the agricultural commissioner’s office in Tuolumne County. Not a big farming county, he got a lot of experience with weights and measures and also worked on gypsy moth control around Sonora Pass, in the High Sierra off Highway 108, and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite. He left Tuolumne County in 2008, following his boss, former Tuolumne County Ag Commissioner Gary Caseri, to Stanislaus County. “It was a totally different world,” he said. In Stanislaus, he was a deputy agricultural commissioner and managed the pest detection and exclusion, and the fruit and vegetable standards, programs. In 2014, he was hired as commissioner for San Joaquin County.