Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Jim Unsworth gave two-weeks notice Wednesday, saying in a resignation letter that he was leaving to “pursue other professional and personal goals in wildlife and natural resources management.”
Unsworth, 60, said in an interview Thursday with the Capital Press that he wasn’t ready to retire, but he declined to elaborate on what he planned to do next.
“It is a difficult job,” he said. “Washington is a tough state. ... It’s difficult to please folks.”
Unsworth’s last day will be Feb. 7. Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Brad Smith said the commission will name an interim director as soon as possible and conduct a national search for a permanent director.
Smith said in a written statement that Unsworth has “done an outstanding job of guiding the department through the complex challenges that come with managing natural resources in Washington.”
“We greatly appreciate his contributions to the department and wish him well in his future endeavors,” Smith said.
Unsworth, in his resignation letter, recommended the commission appoint Deputy Director Joe Stohr as interim director.
Prior coming to WDFW, Unsworth was deputy director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. He worked in that agency for more than 30 years. His other management positions included wildlife bureau chief and state big game manager.
Unsworth said that salmon recovery in Washington proved to be the most challenging issue he has faced in his career. “People are looking for simple solutions, and there aren’t any,” he said.
As director, Unsworth authorized the killing of wolves to stop chronic attacks on livestock three times. Unsworth said that was another source of criticism.
“You get all kinds of emails, with the ability of people to rally people on the internet. I sometimes received hundreds of those kinds of responses,” he said.
Wolves will continue to be an issue as the population grows, and the state will have to find a way to balance interests, Unsworth said. “You have to maintain tolerance,” he said. “They are not benign animals on the landscape.”
He said several people inside the department with experience in Washington would be good choices for the director.
“Washington is a tough place to learn,” he said. “I had a steep learning curve here.”