Head of wildlife agency departing Trump administration

Head of wildlife agency departing Trump administration
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Greg Sheehan, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), is stepping down from his post, the Interior Department confirmed to The Hill on Thursday.

"Greg Sheehan has been an incredible asset to the Interior team and was tremendous in helping Secretary [Ryan] Zinke expand access for hunting and fishing on over a quarter million acres of public lands across the country. We will miss working with him and wish him and his family nothing but the best," Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement.

In an all employee email Sheehan sent to staff Thursday evening, he referenced family time as the impetus behind his stepping down. He plans to move back to Utah.

"I have been away from my family for quite some time now, and while they have been patient and understanding, it is time that I rejoin them," he wrote.

He acknowledged that he will not be serving his full term, as he originally promised Interior Secretary Zinke.

In the letter he cited a number of achievements he accomplished while at the agency, including "opening more than 380,000 acres of our Refuge System to new hunting, fishing, and other recreational uses."

Sheehan additionally mentioned his close relationship with Zinke saying that he was "constantly under the gun in the media."

"I can tell you from experience that he genuinely cares about our public lands and their responsible and sustainable use by all. I have spent time over dinner or driving remote roads with the Secretary, and I honestly believe that your thoughts and ideas of conservation stewardship align more closely with him than you may know," Sheehan told FWS staff.

Since starting at FWS last June, Sheehan has largely been regarded as a driving force behind some of the service's more controversial decisions. A member of the Safari Club, Sheehan was a key figure in the Trump administration's push last fall to overturn an Obama-era ban on elephant trophy imports from a number of African nations.

Sheehan first made the announcement that FWS was releasing a finding to overturn the ban at a Safari Club event in Tanzania in November. Following public outrage and a few tweets from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE promising to put a halt on the decision, the administration later announced it would allow imports in on a "case by case" basis.

In February, Sheehan attended the Safari Club's annual conference in Las Vegas on behalf of the administration.

Sheehan was also influential in implementing a number of agencywide reforms to the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. In July, he helped the agency rollout a number of new proposals that could ultimately weaken the Endangered Species Act's species protections.

On a call with stakeholders, Sheehan — the former head of Utah’s wildlife agency — said the changes would help the agency meet the legislation's main goal of “species recovery,” so that animals and plants could more easily be removed from endangered and threatened species lists.

As acting administrator of FWS, Sheehan never went through the official confirmation process, an issue raised by a number of environmental groups.

At least one environmental group praised the news that Sheehan was leaving.

"Sheehan’s departure is welcome news for America’s wildlife. In just one year in office, he inflicted incredible harm on imperiled animals by consistently putting special interests ahead of science and the environment," Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

"His actions derailed the recovery of countless endangered species, gutted protections for billions of migratory birds and wreaked havoc on our natural heritage,” Hartl said.

An administration source said Sheehan cited family time as the reason he is stepping down. He plans to move back to Utah. 

Updated at 5:49 p.m.