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Sam D. Hamilton dead at 54; U.S. fish and wildlife director

Monday, February 22, 2010; B04

Sam D. Hamilton, 54, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, died Feb. 20 after suffering chest pains while skiing at the Keystone Ski Area in Colorado. The Summit County, Colo., coroner told the Associated Press that his death was consistent with an underlying heart problem.

Mr. Hamilton, a 30-year veteran of the agency who became its director in September, was one of the leaders of restoration work in the Florida Everglades and along the coastal wetlands and wildlife habitat along the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. When the ivory-billed woodpecker, long thought extinct, was spotted in his region in 2005, he told The Washington Post: "It's given us a renewed hope that all these efforts, all this work, can pay off. It's the story of how you can get a second chance."

Jamie Rappaport Clark, who was director of the Fish and Wildlife Service in the Clinton administration and is now executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, said Mr. Hamilton "clearly was able to unify and mobilize the Fish and Wildlife Service after what was a long number of years under the last administration. He was on his way to restoring the incredible prominence of the service; he was very well-loved and respected . . . by all walks of conservationists. He was certainly a biologist first, and at heart, and spoke with a lot of integrity."

In a statement during his confirmation hearings, he said he believed in collaboration and that conservation work must be driven by sound science. Most recently, he was working on the land-and-water invasion of exotic species, which he called "probably the single greatest threat in our country to our native wildlife."

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Saturday lauded his "forward-thinking approach to conservation -- including his view that we must think beyond boundaries at the landscape level -- will continue to shape our nation's stewardship for years to come."

The son of an Air Force pilot, Mr. Hamilton grew up in Starkville, Miss. His first outdoors job was as a Youth Conservation Corps member on the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi, where he learned to band wood ducks and Canada geese, to build waterfowl pens and to understand the importance of managing wildlife habitat. Mr. Hamilton graduated from Mississippi State University in 1977. He rose through the Fish and Wildlife Service from being its Texas administrator, to assistant regional director of ecological services in Atlanta and then director of the agency's Southeast region, based in Atlanta.

There, he supported efforts leading to the establishment of a carbon sequestration program that has allowed biologists to restore 80,000 acres of wildlife habitat. During his tenure, the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership was established to restore aquatic habitats across the region. He oversaw and managed a $484 million budget and 1,500 employees working for 128 national wildlife refuges, protecting more than 350 federally listed threatened and endangered species.

Survivors include his wife, Becky Arthur Hamilton, of Atlanta; two sons, Sam Hamilton Jr. and Clay Hamilton, both of Atlanta; and a grandson.

-- From News Services and Staff Reports

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