WDFW Director Resigns - Northwest Fishing Reports
  • WDFW Director Resigns

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Dedicated to the pursuit of the Noble Muskellunge.
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 #240059  by Don Wittenberger
 Sat Jan 27, 2018 3:36 pm
WDFW Director Jim Unsworth resigned on Jan. 24, 2018, and the state Fish & Wildlife Commission has begun searching for a new agency head. Unsworth was director for 3 years. He championed simplified fishing rules and a more user-friendly website.

According to a Seattle Times story published on Jan. 27, 2018, his tenure was marked by hunting and sexual harassment controversies, but he was not forced out and is leaving voluntarily to pursue other interests.

On Jan. 28, 2018, a former WDFW division head was convicted by a Thurston County jury of raping another WDFW employee in 2014 after an agency Christmas Party, as reported by the Daily Olympian and other news media.

Nothing I've read suggests Unsworth was responsible for any of the sexual harassment incidents, but the Times article says he received "mixed" performance reviews, and this may be because some people feel he didn't do enough to change an agency culture he inherited.

Unless you've been living under a log, in which case you're more likely fish bait than a fish catcher (e.g., an earthworm, grub, etc.), you know that this issue has been in the news recently, and sexual misconduct allegations have brought down a number of high-profile celebrities, CEOs, and political figures.

Still, it's surprising to see a public agency in a state like Washington embroiled in this type of issue at this point of history. For a long time now, victims' lawyers have made it dangerous for employers to tolerate this behavior, and most organizations have responded by adopting and strictly enforcing policies relating to workplace sexual harassment.

In any case, "boys will be boys" is no longer an excuse for such behavior, and never should have been in the first place. As a societal issue, this should have been addressed more vigorously, and much sooner. Gender issues haven't been ignored, but women are still treated like second-class citizens far too often, and in far too many settings.

Obviously, it's difficult for the people working at WDFW to read these kinds of things about their agency, and there are some things that a new management will have to deal with in terms of the agency's internal culture. As far as I know, none of the fish biologists, fish managers, and other staffers in the WDFW's Fish Division that we've worked with over the years in supporting our fishery were involved in any of this. We can only offer them our support and prayers as their agency faces the challenging task of making constructive changes and rebuilding its reputation.
 #240074  by Toni
 Mon Jan 29, 2018 9:14 am
One thing not brought up is that Unsworth was directly involved in is the court ordered negotiations with the comanagers that he didn't even tell the commission about whom he is under. This was a 10 year plan for salmon and it was sent to NOAA to be approved. That might have led to his seeking another source of employment.
 #240886  by Don Wittenberger
 Mon Apr 02, 2018 10:32 am
In our system, the military is subordinate to civilian authority, and generals serve at the commander-in-chief's pleasure. A general who disobeys or ignores his civilian superiors may find himself out of work. Who was right about the policy disputes is beside the point; historians and partisans can debate that until the end of time.

In the case of WDFW, the governance structure is more like a corporation's, but the same basic principle applies. The Director is like a CEO, and the Commission is akin to a board of directors. The Commission hires the Director and determines general policies. The Director has wide latitude to run the agency, is responsible for its performance, and is expected to inform the Commission of what he's doing and implement its policies. If he didn't, that's the most logical explanation of why he isn't the Director anymore.