Jerry Conley led the Idaho Department of Fish and Wildlife from 1980 to 1996, a tumultuous time that included the killing of two conservation officers, a standoff with the Nez Perce tribe over treaty fishing and the beginning of funding for nongame species. Conley organized Citizens Against Poaching, the Idaho Wildlife Congress and other programs to get the public involved in fish and wildlife management.
Conley died Oct. 5 after a long fight with brain cancer. He was Idahos longest-serving Fish and Game director.
The MK Nature Center was built during his tenure, and he visited the center with his grandchildren until almost the day he died, his family said in his obituary.
Jerrys tenure marked the proudest and most innovative days of the department, and the apex of abundance of wildlife in the state of Idaho, said Bill Goodnight, who served as Conleys communications director.
A LONG CAREER
At age 35, Conley had been the youngest fish and wildlife director in the country, in Kansas. After he left Idaho, he returned to his native state of Missouri to guide its department until 2002.
Conley was a fisheries biologist who got both his bachelors and masters degrees at the University of Missouri. He began his career in Utah and later worked in Iowa in fisheries management.
It was his knack for public outreach that made him and the agencies he led such a success.
Jerry was a great ambassador for fish and wildlife, said Grant Simonds, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association. I remember listening to his Inside the Outdoors show on KBOI Radio while sitting in elk camp.
Conley led wildlife agencies at a time when the environmental movement was changing the makeup and expectations of those departments, bringing new conflicts with traditional resource users such as farmers, ranchers and loggers.
But Conley managed to give hunters and anglers more opportunity. Thats why he pushed turkey reintroduction and planting walleye in Salmon Falls reservoir.
Cal Groen, who was a salmon and steelhead fisheries manager under Conley, was a planner when Conley ran the Kansas department. He remembers Conley put the field staff in uniform for the first time and redesigned the logo.
He stirred things up and gave that department direction, remembered Groen, himself a former Idaho Fish and Game director. He was a very creative guy.
It wasnt long after he took over as director in Idaho that Claude Dallas killed wardens Bill Pogue and Conley Elm on Jan. 5, 1981, in a desolate campsite in Owyhee County. In the aftermath, Conley organized Citizens Against Poaching to help build support for the agencys law enforcement program.
After the emergency closing of fishing to protect broodstocks at Rapid River Hatchery led to conflict with the Nez Perce Tribe, Conley reached an agreement with the tribe that eventually led to cooperative management programs.
Conley was director when wolves were reintroduced by the federal government into Idaho, a pivotal moment in state wildlife history. The Idaho Legislature in 1995 banned Fish and Game from participating in the reintroduction.
For the first time since 1970, Idaho had a Republican in the governors office. Gov. Phil Batt pressed the agency to cut costs and become more responsive to ranchers and farmers.
The agency, which had taken the political lead on controversial conservation programs such as road closures and habitat purchases, was adjusting to a new role, said John Burns, then a Fish and Game commissioner.
Jerry was a very dedicated director for the department, Burns said. At the time he left, the political situation had changed.
But his influence continued. Three of the five directors who followed him, including Groen, had served under him in the department. Current Director Virgil Moore, a fisheries manager under Conley, was fishing Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
He was a good mentor to all of us, Groen said.
Conley is survived by his wife, Janet; son, Mark; daughter, Wendy; and a brother and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday, at the Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise. A reception will follow. Arrangements are by Summers Funeral Homes, Ustick Chapel, Meridian.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484