Jerry Conley the longest serving director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, died Oct. 5 after a long fight with brain cancer.
Conley, 71, led the department 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 non-game species. Conley organized Citizens Against Poaching, the Idaho Wildlife Congress and other programs to get the public involved in fish and wildlife management.
During his tenure turkeys and walleyes were introduced into Idaho's woods and waters and the MK Nature Center was built.
“Jerry's 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 Conley’s communications director.
Previously Conley had been the youngest fish and wildlife department director in the country in Kansas at 35. 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 master degree at the University of Missouri. He began his career in Utah and later Iowa in fisheries management.
I covered Conley for 11 years and joined him in the field several times including a horsepack trip into the Palisades roadless area in eastern Idaho. He was a savvy and creative bureaucrat who wasn't afraid to stand up against a political establishment that often demonized his agency.
My ecology and wildlife management professor at college in Wisconsin was his college roommate. They had both learned from Richard Anderson, a pioneer in the research that led to trophy fish management programs.
Conley led fish and wildlife agencies at a time when the environmental movement was changing the makeup and expectations of the agencies. These brought new conflicts with traditional resource users like farmers, ranchers and loggers.
But Conley managed to give hunter and anglers more opportunity. That why he pushed turkey reintroduction and planting walleye in Salmon Falls reservoir.
It wasn’t long after he took over as director in Idaho that Claude Dallas killed wardens Bill Pogue and Conley Elms, Jan 5, 1981 in a desolate campsite in Owyhee County. In the aftermath, Conley organized Citizens Against Poaching to help build support and help for the agency’s law enforcement program.
After the emergency closing of fishing to protect broodstocks at Rapid River Hatchery prompted conflict with the Nez Perce Tribe Conley eventually reached an agreement with the tribe that led eventually to cooperative management programs.
He is survived by his wife Janet, a son Mark, a daughter Wendy, a brother and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held this Friday, at the Cathedral of the Rockies, at 1:30pm. A reception will follow. Arrangements are by Summers Funeral Homes, Ustick Chapel, Meridian.