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During his 40 years at Fish and Game, Virgil Moore built connections to help Idaho’s ‘critters’

Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore is retiring after 40 years with the agency and the last eight as its director. (Darin Oswald / Courtesy/The Idaho Statesman)
Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore is retiring after 40 years with the agency and the last eight as its director. (Darin Oswald / Courtesy/The Idaho Statesman)
By Nicole Blanchard The Idaho Statesman

BOISE – Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore retired from the agency this week.

After more than 40 years in wildlife management, the 67-year-old IDFG director retired Tuesday, leaving a legacy that includes rebuilding multiple animal populations, managing wolves delisted from the Endangered Species Act and making great strides toward further funding the agency, which cares for all of Idaho’s wildlife resources.

“One of the special parts about working in this arena is this agency,” Moore told the Statesman in December. “Fish and Game has a special culture that is conducive to long careers – I refer to it as our Fish and Game family, and I mean that in the closest sense.”

Other than a yearlong stint as the director of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2006, Moore spent his entire career with the Idaho agency.

“Virgil does see Fish and Game as a continuation of his family, and he’s serious about that,” said Sharon Kiefer, deputy director of programs and policy at Fish and Game.

Kiefer, who has worked with Moore since 1987, joined the Moores on rafting trips and spent holidays with the director’s family.

“My first Thanksgiving at my home in 1990, Virgil and his wife gave me a Christmas cactus, and it’s still alive,” Kiefer said. “When I look at it, I always think about them and their graciousness.”

From pastime to passion in the outdoors

Originally from Missouri, Moore moved to Idaho in 1974 to pursue a graduate degree in zoology from Idaho State University. At 22 years old, he didn’t imagine he would have the opportunity to interact with each of Idaho’s “critters,” as he often calls them, in a meaningful way.

In his time at Fish and Game, he rebuilt trout populations, kept sage grouse from the Endangered Species List, boosted elk to all-time high numbers and did some inadvertent mutton busting while trying to fit a radio collar on a bighorn sheep.

“Feeling the heartbeat of the animal and then seeing the biological information so we can better understand their needs, that is part of who we are,” Moore said.

When he retires, he’ll continue to hunt. He harvested a bull moose last year, a lifelong goal. He plans to get a yellow Labrador retriever puppy now that he has the time to train a dog for bird hunting. And, of course, he’ll fish.

Moore said he was originally a fish guy – when he was growing up in Missouri, deer and turkey populations were too low to allow hunting. So he started his wildlife career in fisheries, working to address population issues in Yellowstone cutthroat trout on the South Fork of the Snake River.

“I got to walk miles of beautiful country in the Snake River Basin,” Moore said. “If anything told me I was on the right track with the right agency, that was it.”

There, he set himself up to ascend through the ranks at Fish and Game, where he would later become chief of fisheries. He also forged relationships he still tends today.

“I can remember going out in the field, we’re using electric fishing gear,” said Chip Corsi, now a supervisor at Fish and Game’s Coeur d’Alene office.

“Those were complicated pieces of equipment, not just something anyone would think, ‘Oh, I can fix this,’ ” Corsi recalled.

But when the gear malfunctioned, Moore wouldn’t hesitate to tinker with it, a skill that proved valuable in the field.

“You didn’t feel like that was the end of the trip,” Corsi said. “I think it empowered others around him to come up with creative solutions when things weren’t going according to plan.”

Not just critters, but connections

Creative solutions became something of a hallmark of Moore’s tenure with the agency – he addressed issues with wildlife habitats and populations by assessing the problem from all angles. At his first project on the South Fork, he was part of a team that devised a plan to protect trout from overharvesting. At the same time, Moore allowed anglers and other Idahoans to use the resources they relied on. The fish began to thrive, and so did Moore’s relationships.

“It was successful because we knew the biology – but then we also understood what the people wanted,” Moore said. “It was this blend of biological and social sciences. It was one of the most phenomenal responses, and it not only secured but enhanced the future of the fish.”

Corsi called the partnerships “pretty cutting-edge stuff.”

“He’s fostered collaboration with others,” Corsi said. “Prior to that, (conservation) regulations had excluded bait fishermen. He took a hard look at the data and said, ‘We can keep them in the fold.’ ”

Moore also worked to keep ranchers and Idaho’s neighboring states on the same page when it came to managing wild wolves. He came to the helm of Fish and Game in 2011, just as wolves were again being delisted from Endangered Species Act protections in Idaho.

After a tumultuous few years of the animals repeatedly gaining and losing protections, wolves have stayed under state management for Moore’s entire directorship.

“We’ve been managing our wolves very well,” Moore said. “There are a lot of social issues around wolf management … but a lot of the angst has been relieved. It’s not gone, we’ve got some hot spots, but it’s gotten better.”

Moore wants to see those collaborations live on through a nationwide deal he hopes his successor, deputy director Ed Schriever, can help see through. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which stalled in Congress, would allot $1.3 billion in existing revenues from energy and mining operations on federal land to wildlife agencies.

“It would have been the pinnacle of any career to be associated with getting that act approved,” Moore said.

Fish and Game receives designated funding from the Idaho Legislature, but the bulk of its revenue comes from hunting and fishing licenses, Moore said. With a tight budget, the agency isn’t able to address all of Idaho’s wildlife needs.

“The bottom line is that we’re unable to fulfill the directive given to us 80 years ago,” Moore said.

Living by the mission

The Fish and Game directive, in Idaho Code 36-103(a), has become something of a mantra for Moore.

Fish and Game’s mission is clear: the preservation, protection, perpetuation and management of Idaho’s wildlife.

“He has the mission statement printed on the back of his business card,” Corsi said. “He’s found a way to be true to that and still offer word-class hunting and fishing opportunities.”

Through his career, Moore said, the three lines of that statement have helped ground his decisions. He knows it will guide Fish and Game staff when he leaves, too.

“It’s my anchor,” Moore said, holding one of his business cards. “If I ever get (lost), I flip this over and reread it …

“All wildlife, including all wild animals, wild birds, and fish, within the state of Idaho, is hereby declared to be the property of the state of Idaho. It shall be preserved, protected, perpetuated, and managed. It shall be only captured or taken at such times or places, under such conditions, or by such means, or in such manner, as will preserve, protect, and perpetuate such wildlife, and provide for the citizens of this state and, as by law permitted to others, continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.”

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