Veteran of Idaho wildlife agency named to lead Washington’s fish and wildlife department

Jim Unsworth, who has spent more than 30 years with Idaho’s wildife agency, was chosen Saturday to head Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The 57-year-old Unsworth, who has been the deputy director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, was chosen from four finalists by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The commission had interviewed eight candidates to take over for Phil Anderson, who announced in August he was resigning.

As the head of the agency responsible for the state’s wildlife and fish populations, Unsworth will lead a department with more than 1,600 employees and a biennial operating budget of $376 million.

His annual salary was set at $146,500.

“I’m thrilled at this opportunity,” Unsworth said in a statement. “I look forward to taking on the many exciting challenges that come with managing fish and wildlife in the state of Washington.”

Unsworth has worked more than 30 years in wildlife management in Idaho, serving as deputy director for the agency since 2008. He also has been the wildlife bureau chief and state big game manager.

He has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from the University of Idaho, a master’s degree in fish and wildlife management from Montana State University and a doctorate in forestry, wildlife and range sciences from the University of Idaho.

Unsworth and his wife, Michele, have four adult children. He is an avid hunter and fisher.

The new director takes over a department that has been hit in recent years with budget cuts, layoffs and low staff morale.

In its search, the commission looked for a visionary leader with a strong conservation ethic, sound fiscal-management skills and the expertise to work collaboratively with the commission and the department’s constituents, said Miranda Wecker, commission chairwoman.

“We’re confident Jim is the right person to guide the department through the many challenges that lie ahead,” Wecker said.

“His solid understanding of natural resource issues and strong leadership skills will be invaluable in the department’s effort to manage and protect the fish and wildlife resources that are so important to the people of this state.”

The commission’s choice earned positive feedback from outside the agency.

“It is 100 percent good,” Tony Floor said of the decision. Floor is the fishing affairs director for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

“His reputation is rock solid from his time in Idaho,” Floor added. “Clearly there are different challenges in Idaho than in Washington, especially with our complex salmon co-management situation.” .

Change is inevitable, especially in fisheries and salmon management, Floor said. He compared the change in leadership to those changes that come with spring.

“There are new opportunities, new discussions and new philosophies,” he said. “Our industry welcomes the change.”

Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Comission, said the treaty tribes and state must work together to restore the state’s natural resources and ensure protection of treaty rights.

“We have a lot of work to do together to recover salmon and address the many Endangered Species Act challenges we face,” Loomis said in a statement. “We know that tribal and non-tribal communities – and our shared natural resources – are stronger when the co-managers work together.”

A long-time employee of the department himself, Floor said Unsworth faces a difficult task.

“This is a tough job, no matter who you are,” he said. “The very first decision he makes, he’ll have someone mad at him.”