Koenings resigns as Fish and Wildlife director

OLYMPIA -- Ending weeks of speculation around one of the worst-kept secrets in the halls of Olympia, Jeff Koenings resigned earlier this week as director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Rumors had been flying around for two weeks that Koenings was on his way out, with sources inside the department saying he was pressured to resign by members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, which determines department policy.

In his 10 years as director, making him the longest-tenured director in the department's history, Koenings has been both accomplished and controversial.

The department has acquired more than 109,000 acres of land under Koenings, who also recently chaired negotiations on a 10-year chinook harvest agreement under the Pacific Salmon Treaty that will require British Columbia and Alaska to reduce harvest by a million fish over the next decade.

"I'm proud of the progress we've made in creating a comprehensive, gravel-to-gravel system of stewardship for wild salmon, rebuilding relationships based on mutual trust with tribal resource co-managers, bringing a scientific focus to state fish and wildlife management and improving the department's business practices," Koenings said in a statement.

Koenings also has been at the forefront of the department's much-debated pilot grazing program on state wildlife lands -- over which the department has been sued by a conservation group -- and presided over what many have decried as "a brain drain" of unhappy wildlife professionals leaving the department for other state agencies or the private sector.

"Our big problem with Jeff has been the way he micromanages everybody's job," said Russell Rogers, president of the Washington Association of Fish and Wildlife Professionals, the department's largest union.

"On an official level, we wish Jeff well and hope for the best, but we definitely feel that a change is needed in the upper management of the department."

Former wildlife commissioner Bob Tuck of Selah, who has been a vociferous opponent of Koenings' pilot-grazing project, nonetheless said he thought the department would be worse off for losing Koenings.

"Overall, he's done a very good job in a very difficult position," Tuck said. "You don't have to agree with somebody all the time to think they've done an overall good job. You have to look at the whole picture. It's a tough job."

The commission has appointed Phil Anderson as interim department director.

Anderson has been the department's deputy director for resource policy since July 2007.

Anderson also serves as the department's representative to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

He joined the department in 1994.