Conservation's Fifth Director Retires

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

Conservation Department Director Jerry J. Presley is retiring. Presley has headed the Conservation Department since January 1988. He is the fifth director in the 60-year history of the agency.

Presley's 39-year career with the Conservation Department spans a time of agency expansion, which was given a tetherball boost by the passage of the 1976 1/8 of one percent sales tax for conservation.

The tax, a mandate from the people to enhance the protection of the state's fish, forest and wildlife resources, funded the acquisition of more public lands for recreation, the construction of community fishing lakes, the building of nature centers and a wealth of programs to manage and protect both game and non-game species.

During his nine years as director, Presley steered the Conservation Department as it grew and evolved into one of the top fish and wildlife agencies in the nation.

"The mere fact that I'm only the fifth director says a lot," Presley said. Directors of other state conservation agencies, he explained, come and go every time the governor changes, making it difficult to maintain continuity and leadership.

In recognition of the strength and leadership of the Missouri Conservation Department, Presley has served for the last year as president of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which has brought him into contact with a worldwide slate of conservation groups.

Presley said that as he travels around the country he finds other agencies are envious of the Missouri Department of Conservation's freedom from political manipulation, of the strong feelings Missourians have about natural resources and of the Conservation Department's financial resources, made possible by concerned taxpayers.

"Anytime I go anywhere else, I feel good about being here," he said.

Missouri All The Way

Presley was born in St. Louis and grew up at Low Wassie, east of Winona, Missouri. He was raised by his grandmother and had to perform much of the work around the house.

"We were fairly poor," Presley said. "But we always had big gardens and canned a lot. We raised chickens and a hog or two and a cow for milk."

Presley grew up close to the land. As a young boy he lugged home catfish, perch and green sunfish from local farm ponds and hunted for quail, squirrel and rabbits. He also trapped, mostly for possum and skunks, but he also nabbed a few mink, rabbits and weasel.

"Big game wasn't as

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