Image: Sam Hamilton
Seth Wenig  /  AP file
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Sam Hamilton died Saturday in Colorado. He reportedly suffered chest pains while skiing.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/20/2010 11:35:32 PM ET 2010-02-21T04:35:32

The director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service died Saturday afternoon after suffering an apparent heart attack at a Colorado ski resort, NBC News reported.

Sam Hamilton, 54, was pronounced dead at 1:16 p.m. after being transported off the mountain at Keystone Ski Area. Hamilton had been reported having chest pains, according to the Summit County coroner.

Hamilton's circumstances were consistent with an underlying heart-related medical condition, the coroner said.

Hamilton, who was sworn in as the agency's 15th director in September, was on a ski trip with friends, NBC News reported.

"Sam was a friend, a visionary, and a professional whose years of service and passionate dedication to his work have left an indelible mark on the lands and wildlife we cherish," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement. "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."

Hamilton guided the Interior Department’s restoration work in the Everglades. He also oversaw recovery and restoration efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, , which devastated coastal wetlands, wildlife refuges and other wildlife habitat along the Gulf of Mexico.

Prior to his appointment as director, Hamilton served as regional director of the agency's southeast region in Atlanta. He was in charge of an agency with 8,700 workers responsible for protecting more than 150 million acres and hundreds of threatened and endangered species. The service operates about 550 national wildlife refuges.

Hamilton, from Lawrenceville, Ga., was a 1977 graduate of Mississippi State University. He is survived by his wife, Becky; sons, Sam Jr. and Clay; and a grandson, Davis, all of Atlanta.

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