The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced late Wednesday that Director Jim Unsworth is resigning his position after three years. According to a press release, Unsworth is pursuing other professional and personal goals.
"This has been a challenging, educational, and often rewarding experience," Unsworth said in a letter to Commission Chairman Brad Smith. "It is now time for me to pursue other professional and personal goals in wildlife and natural resources management."
Unsworth has faced intense pressure in recent months, with many groups calling for his resignation. A couple of months ago, WDFW sparked protests among wildlife rehabilitation facilities for euthanizing three fawns and an elk calf.
Fury followed soon after, as sports fishermen criticized the newly released and highly controversial Puget Sound chinook management plan.
A citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW will name an interim director as soon as possible and will initiate a national search for Unsworth's replacement, the department said.
"Over the last three years, Jim has done an outstanding job of guiding the department through the complex challenges that come with managing natural resources in Washington," Smith is quoted in the press release. "We greatly appreciate his contributions to the department and wish him well in his future endeavors."
WDFW's release congratulated Unsworth with initiating a multi-year plan to strengthen the department's relationships with communities, increase support for conservation and outdoor recreation, and help ensure WDFW programs and services meet the public's needs. Those discussions helped launch several efforts to improve the department's customer service and responsiveness, WDFW says, including the simplification of fishing rules, the development of a more user-friendly website, and creation of a fishing regulation application for smartphones and other mobile devices.
However, Unsworth has been criticized for weak leadership that has hurt wildlife management. Insiders tell KING 5 News that several members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission asked for Unsworth to resign.
Unsworth expressed his appreciation to WDFW staff members in an email message, the release says. "I have had some great experiences as director," he told them, "but by far the best part of the job has been getting to know many of you. I appreciate your professionalism, work ethic, and passion for fish and wildlife."
Unsworth joined WDFW in February 2015 after serving more than 30 years in wildlife management with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, including several years as the agency's deputy director.