After nearly six years at the helm, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Phil Anderson has informed the state Fish and Wildlife Commission he will resign from his position, effective Dec. 31.
“Deciding when to move on is a difficult decision,” Anderson said. “But after 20 great years with the department, the time is right for me to step aside. I will leave knowing that the talented people I have had the privilege to work with here at WDFW are fully capable of taking on the challenges that lie ahead.”
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW, will begin the recruitment process for a new director in the next few weeks.
“Phil has done a tremendous job leading the department through some difficult and challenging issues over the past several years,” said Miranda Wecker, chair of the commission. “His strong conservation ethic, dedication to sound fiscal management and expertise in intergovernmental relations have greatly benefitted the department and the state’s fish and wildlife resources it protects and manages.”
As director, Anderson guided the department through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. During the unprecedented budget shortfall, state General Fund support for WDFW declined by nearly $50 million – 45 percent – threatening department operations and fishing and hunting opportunities throughout the state.
To address the shortfall, Anderson and his staff worked to restructure the agency while continuing to provide key services and maintain a high conservation standard for Washington’s fish and wildlife. As part of that effort, WDFW worked closely with stakeholders to develop new revenue streams and reduce the department’s reliance on the state General Fund.
Also under Anderson’s leadership, the department developed a plan to guide state conservation and management of gray wolves as they recolonize in Washington – a controversial issue that has evoked strong reactions from people on both sides of the Cascade Range.
The department implemented the plan in 2011, after working closely with a number of citizen advisors, including those representing conservationists, hunters and livestock producers. The plan establishes clear recovery objectives for gray wolves, along with procedures for addressing predation on livestock and impacts on ungulates such as deer, elk and caribou.
Throughout his career at WDFW, Anderson has played a leading role in working with Indian tribes in a number of forums, including the annual salmon co-management process known as North of Falcon. During this process, the state and tribes set seasons for marine and freshwater salmon fisheries throughout Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington’s coastal areas.
Anderson also has served as WDFW’s representative to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and serves as a commissioner on the Pacific Salmon Commission.
Over the last decade, Anderson and his team successfully maintained fishing opportunities by establishing new sustainable fisheries that allow the harvest of abundant wild stocks and hatchery-produced fish while meeting conservation objectives for wild populations listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Key to this effort has been the use of selective-fishing methods, including mark-selective fisheries that allow anglers to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon but require that they release wild salmon. Establishing these fisheries, where appropriate, has resulted in additional harvest opportunities.
Anderson also has led WDFW’s effort to change state hatchery operations to support the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead populations.
“I am proud of the fact that we have successfully maintained fish production while reforming hatchery practices to ensure that they are compatible with efforts to rebuild wild fish populations,” Anderson said. “The job is definitely not done, but we have made tremendous strides in the right direction that bode well for the future of Washington’s fish stocks and fisheries.”
Anderson, who lives in Westport, said he plans to spend more time with his family and will look for other opportunities to contribute to resource conservation and management.
Anderson, 64, joined WDFW in 1994 after serving seven years on the PFMC as a private citizen, including as the council’s chair. Anderson was appointed WDFW director in 2009 after serving nearly nine months as the agency’s interim director. He previously served as WDFW’s deputy director for resource policy and as assistant director of the department’s Intergovernmental Resource Management Program.