Head of the Fish and Wildlife Service dies on ski trip

Sam D. Hamilton, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, died suddenly on Feb. 20 while skiing in Colorado the day after the agency's regional leadership meeting ended. The cause was an underlying heart problem. He was 54.

Hamilton, a 30-year veteran of the agency, which conserves fish, wildlife and habitats and is part of the Interior Department, became its 15th director on September 1, 2009. He oversaw habitat recovery efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and helped establish the nation's largest ecosystem restoration project at the Everglades in Florida.

Prior to assuming directorship, Hamilton led the service's Southeast Region, managing a $484 million budget and a 1,500-person workforce that operated 128 national wildlife refuges in 10 states and the Caribbean.

Although criticized by civic groups for failing to stop development projects and reduce further panther habitat loss in Florida, Hamilton's commitment to creative green solutions won him praise as "a visionary leader" from Larry Schweiger, President of the National Wildlife Federation, the largest wildlife conservation group. Schweiger said on Monday that "the conservation world has suffered a great loss with the passing of Sam."

Hamilton pushed for the establishment of a carbon sequestration program that helped biologists in the Southeast restore about 80,000 acres of wildlife habitat. An advocate of collaborative green solutions, he also helped set up the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership to restore marine habitats across the region.

"His forward-thinking approach to conservation -- including his view that we must think beyond boundaries at the landscape-scale -- will continue to shape our nation's stewardship for years to come," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

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