After 32 years of managing some of America's most delicate places and finding himself in some of the most contentious natural-resource battles over them, Michael Finley returned to his Southern Oregon roots in 2007 hoping the special things of his past would still be there.
In doing so, the 64-year-old former superintendent of Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks discovered his youth.
The Williamson River still has rainbow trout to bite Finley's flies. Nearby Eastern Oregon still has chukars to chase with a shotgun and the trails off Muir Creek in the far-upper Rogue River basin still have lightly treaded dirt beneath his boots.
"I grew up here in Southern Oregon," says Finley, a native of Medford who has returned to his hometown. "I found my values in the outdoors and natural resources here. And when I returned home and got to go out to some of my favorite places, they were still there and well-managed in my absence."
Now, again, it's his turn to take the mantel and help manage these resources there.
Finley, who previously ran three national parks and is now president of media mogul Ted Turner's philanthropic foundation, will return to natural-resources work as a volunteer member of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The self-decribed four-season outdoorsman will start his four-year term July 1 on the seven-member board that oversees Oregon's fish and wildlife resources and habitats, as well as the hunters, anglers and conservationists who value them.
Finley will represent Western Oregon and replaces former commission Chair Marla Rae, whose term expired. Commissioner Dan Edge of Corvallis will take over Rae's chairmanship.
Also appointed and confirmed last week as the Eastern Oregon representative is Holly Akenson, the director of the Wallowa Mountain Institute in Enterprise.
The other five members represent districts that parallel the state's five congressional districts.
Normally, commission appointments are drawn out and contentious, but Finley's appointment and recent confirmation by the Oregon Senate capped a whirlwind process.
He was nominated by two diverse conservation groups in April, applied in early May, was appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber in late May and confirmed unanimously by the Senate with bipartisan support last week.
"It's a real coup for state government to have someone of his caliber signing up for public service," says state Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, who helped shepherd Finley's appointment. "In the fishing, hunting, conservation and natural-resources world, he's a legend."
Despite his park service career taking him out of Oregon and into outdoor meccas ranging from Montana to Alaska and Florida's Everglades, he's always considered himself an Oregonian with an in-state outdoors pedigree.
Finley sees this time on the commission as remittance for that.
"I just feel this is a chance for me to give back to the state of Oregon what it gave me," Finley says.
Finley graduated from Medford High School and what is now Southern Oregon University, developing a broad taste for big-game and upland game-bird hunting, as well as trout fishing and hiking.
He fought wildfires out of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest's Starr Ranger Station before embarking on a Park Service career that included superintendent stops at three of the county's toughest parks — Yosemite in California, Yellowstone primarily in Wyoming and the Everglades in Florida.
There, Finley cut his teeth on issues similar to those he'll face in Oregon.
At the Everglades, he oversaw management of 13 threatened or endangered species whose survival often depended on competing environmental needs.
At Yellowstone, he managed wolf re-introduction into the park. He helped carry the first wolf into the park in 1995 and ordered the killing of rogue wolves that left the park lands and preyed on livestock.
"I've executed my duties the way I was supposed to," he says.
When he retired from the park service in 2001, he returned to Medford to hunt, fish and hike. He also took the Turner Foundation job, for which he flies monthly to Atlanta.
Finley says he's ready to tackle Oregon's fish, wildlife and natural-resources issues on the commission much the same way he worked through the park service — but with even closer ties to his heart.
"I've had 32 years experience managing natural resources in very controversial settings," FInley says. "I understand the depth of people's emotional relationships to natural resources, which is really key. Over the years, I've learned to listen very well, and I have a real love of Oregon."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.