New FWP leader looks forward to change of scenery

New FWP leader looks forward to change of scenery

News Type: State Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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Mark Deleray was juggling seasonal jobs in Wyoming when he decided to go to graduate school in Bozeman. He’d decided rowing boats all summer and working in a restaurant all winter wasn’t something he could do forever.

“Although at times it’s fun, you can’t make a living very well,” he said.

It was the late 1980s. He combined his interest in the outdoors with his science background to study fish and wildlife management at Montana State University. He eventually picked up a job with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and stayed there.

Now, roughly 30 years later, he’s back in Bozeman.

In December, Deleray became the new Region 3 supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, a job in which he’ll oversee the agency’s work in all of southwestern Montana. After 26 years at the agency’s Kalispell office, the change of scenery excites him.

“Abundant big game herds, blue ribbon fisheries everywhere, tremendous recreational opportunities,” said Deleray. “It’s very exciting to be working in a place with those resources.”

Originally from northern California, Deleray studied biology at the University of California Berkeley before coming to Montana. After graduate school, he worked as a fisheries technician in Townsend and spent a year working in Washington state. In 1991, he took a job as a fisheries biologist in Kalispell.

He spent the next two decades as the main biologist on Flathead Lake and the Flathead River. During his last four years in Kalispell, he was the fisheries manager, meaning he oversaw the other biologists in the region.

Aside from having gone to school here, he has another connection to the region. His wife is the daughter of the late Bob Barbee, who spent 12 years as the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Between college and visits to the in-laws, he’s got a bit of experience in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time in this area,” Deleray said. “I’ve had a lot of experiences especially in that northern half of the park.”

Region 3 had been without a permanent supervisor for a few months when Deleray was hired. The previous supervisor, Sam Sheppard, was removed from the position in September following an internal investigation into personnel complaints. Sheppard was assigned to a different job, but he ultimately decided to retire from the agency.

Deleray said the circumstances of his predecessor’s departure don’t seem to have had a major impact on the staff, and that it hasn’t created any baggage for him personally.

“I just kind of grabbed ahold of where we are now and we are moving forward,” he said. “Supervisors change. They come and go but people continue to do their jobs.”

Overseeing an entire region comes with a lot of challenges, and Deleray is looking forward to them. He said one challenge that will be totally new for him is managing conflict between livestock producers and large herds of elk and deer that get into haystacks or crops. The livestock industry is less prevalent in northwestern Montana, he said.

 Game damage hunts and other tools are meant to deal with those conflicts, and Deleray said he’ll continue to rely on local biologists for guidance in those areas.

“We have a well-educated, hardworking group of people here,” he said. “That’s where the work gets done.”

Managing the impact of population growth on outdoor resources will be another new challenge. Crowding at access sites and on rivers is already apparent across the region, and more people moving here can only exacerbate the situation.

“You have people coming here for these experiences, and how do we ensure that that experience is going to be satisfactory in the future?” he said. “That’s going to be a challenge for us because there’s only so much water, only so many access points.”

The agency is working on a management plan for the Madison River. No details of the plan have yet been released, but forming plans like that is an example of how Deleray thinks some of these issues could be dealt with.

“That’s our job … to manage these and try to find management strategies that solve these problems,” he said. “We’re not able to just sit back and let things play out. We have to be active in our management to do our job completely.”