Nick Wiley, whose career at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spanned 30 years, is stepping down as executive director to be the chief conservation officer at Ducks Unlimited.
“Nick has been an unstoppable force for Florida’s fish and wildlife resources,” FWC chairman Brian Yablonski said in a statement. “Nick is a true champion of conservation.”
Wiley’s leadership roles at FWC included alligator, game, and conservation land management. He moved into the top spot in 2009 but his stewardship came under attack in 2015 for his unwavering support for bear hunting. That year the bear hunt sparked outrage from a spectrum of opponents, including conservation and animal welfare groups and ordinary residents.
The 2016 hunt was discarded and FWC commissioners voted unanimously in April to postpone hunts through 2018 while the agency reevaluates its bear management plan.
But Wiley disagreed, saying the science that supports bear hunting was “absolutely rock solid.”
“For almost 30 years, the FWC has been my family,” Wiley said in a statement. “As a team … we’ve worked diligently and successfully to conserve Florida’s fish and wildlife resources and provide opportunities for future generations to enjoy these resources.”
The FWC did not immediately name an interim boss.
According to the FWC, Florida’s black bear population has rebounded from as few as 300 in the 1970s to more than 4,000 now. The 2015 hunt — the first in Florida in 21 years — claimed 304 bears in two days.
Wiley's departure widens a void at the top of the FWC. Earlier in November, Yablonski announced he was moving on in January to a post with a national conservation research institute.
» Photos via FWC (Wiley), Daily Fray (thumbnail).
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» Captive breeding may be the last chance to save Florida's grasshopper sparrow, North America's most endangered bird. (Via Audubon)