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Former fish and wildlife commissioner Denman dies

Don Denman, the long-time Medford lawyer who spent a decade helping shape Oregon's fish and wildlife management policies, died Saturday after a nearly 20-year battle with cancer. He was 82.

A lifelong duck hunter and fly-fisherman, Denman was appointed to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in 1997, and his service included a stint as vice chairman. The commission sets the state's fish and wildlife policies and oversees the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"He loved that general area of wildlife, using the resources but also conserving the resources," said Kristy Denman, his wife of 31 years. "It was special to him."

During his commission tenure, Denman had a hand in banning mechanical decoys such as the so-called "roboduck" as unethical violations of fair chase and helped develop several trout fisheries across Oregon.

He also championed the still-controversial 2004 bans on fall bait-fishing in portions of the upper Rogue River and in the Lower Rogue Canyon to ensure more wild summer steelhead survive catch-and-release fishing.

Russ Stauff, ODFW's Rogue Watershed manager, called Denman a steadfast advocate for natural resources with the personality of a "courteous, understated gentleman."

"He was a tremendous advocate for summer steelhead in the Rogue, and they need an advocate," Stauff said.

Denman was a second-generation fish and wildlife commissioner, following his father, Kenneth Denman, for whom the Denman Wildlife Area in White City is named.

"Obviously, you can't be in the conservation business in Oregon without knowing about the Denman family," said Michael Finley, the commission's current chairman and the former superintendent of Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks.

"He was looking out for the people of Oregon and the resource, and he wasn't in anyone's pocket," Finley said. "He had that philosophy of giving back."

Denman began his legal work in Medford as a sole practitioner in 1962 but soon formed a partnership with a law-school classmate, John P. Cooney.

Denman and Cooney remained partners until 1995, when Cooney was appointed to the federal bench as a magistrate for U.S. District Court, District of Oregon. Denman merged his practice with Stuart Foster in 1999 and remained there until his retirement in 2008.

Denman also served in the U.S. Air Force as a navigator for the Strategic Air Command before attending Willamette University College of Law.

Friends said Denman fought several bouts with cancer, talking openly about it but never letting it define him.

"He stoically toughed it out for 18 years," Kristy Denman said. "But probably the last three months were pretty hard.

"It's sad, but it was time," she said.

A Medford native, Denman lived outside of Jacksonville the past 30 years before recently moving into Medford.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at First Presbyterian Church, 85 S. Holly St., Medford.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.