Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Director Sam Polles, the longest tenured director in the agency’s history, has announced his retirement after 29 years.

“The department is one of a very few agencies that touches the lives of citizens all across this state every single day,” Polles said in a message to MDWFP employees on Monday.

MDWFP Director Sam Polles

Polles, appointed by Gov. Kirk Fordice in 1992, has served under five governors.

In his message, Polles said: “Our Wildlife Management Areas now offer the sporting public high quality hunting opportunities unlike any in the Southeast, and our state lakes system and other public waterways provide anglers with storied fishing experiences which no doubt will be shared with families and friends for generations.”

Polles said his resignation is effective Tuesday.

Deputy Director Lynn Posey said that he will temporarily oversee agency operations until an interim — then permanent — director is named.

“This is an end of an era over here,” Posey said of Polles’ retirement. “I think he’s done an excellent job.”

MDWFP is governed by a five-member commission, with members appointed by the governor. When choosing a director, the commission sends a list of three people to the governor, who chooses one, subject to approval by the state Senate.

Commissioner Leonard Bentz said: “Dr. Polles has been a great leader for that department over the last 29 years. He brought that department to the professional organization it is today because of his leadership.”

Polles’ accomplishments with the agency include expanding wildlife management areas and state lakes system providing more hunting and fishing opportunities, implementing new systems for purchase of licenses and registrations, and construction of the new Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and MDWFP state headquarters.

But not everyone was pleased with his leadership. Mississippi Sierra Club Director Louie Miller said, “Sadly under Dr. Polles’ tenure, state parks have been allowed to deteriorate from what was once a showcase for Mississippi, into the dilapidated condition they are currently in.”

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“To add insult to injury, while Mississippians were celebrating the Christmas holiday, Dr. Polles was busy executing plans to hand over our state parks to private, out-of-state, for-profit corporations for the next 30 years … We hope the next Director will serve the public’s best interest in managing our cherished natural resources rather than yielding to special interests.”

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MDWFP recently put out a request for proposals for private companies to manage operations of Hugh White, John Kyle, John P. Cossar and Wall Doxey state parks. Miller and other opponents of this move said it is ill timed because the state has billions of dollars in federal stimulus money that could be used to improve the state’s dilapidated parks.

MDWFP has faced budget cuts over many years and said it didn’t have the money to maintain and upgrade the state’s 25 parks.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.