In 1996 and with the help of others, Dr. John S. Barclay, associate professor of wildlife, in the Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering, was instrumental in acquiring an initial donation that made the Wildlife Conservation Research Center a possibility. The Center was approved by the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees in February 1997.

Barclay, the first director of the Center, envisioned a holistic approach to conservation problems in respect to contaminants, declining populations and endangered species and hoped for a strong outreach programto get information to the public. Having grown up on Connecticuts coast, he had a special interest in the decline of the greater scaup duck. With a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he monitored the effect of contaminants in this game bird's diet while it overwintered in an area between New Jersey and Cape Cod.

The other main research project that first year involved the rare eastern mud turtle, which lives on Long Island Sound. The Long Island chapter of the Nature Conservancy supplied the grant.

Barclay was tireless in promoting the Center and obtaining funding to broaden the scope of wildlife research projects to include more native species. He is known to have extensive knowledge of the natural history of animals and forest plants and was always captivating to students on field trips during courses.

The Center continued to receive private donations and grants to fund wildlife research. An advisory council was developed to help steer the research direction and maintain contacts with key wildlife stakeholders. During Barclays tenure, the Center was working to reestablish a self sustaining ruffed grouse population, investigating cadmium effects on male woodcock reproduction and involved in other wildlife projects that garnered recognition. Barclay retired from the University in 2009 and maintains an Emeritus appointment.

The focus broadened as new faculty hires and adjuncts discussed the Center's future and a name change to Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Center reflects the new emphasis. Dr. Jason Vokoun, the Center's new director and associate professor of fisheries, in the (also renamed) Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, said, "I hope we can build on what Jack Barclay envisioned in 1996, using the center to spotlight the wildlife and fisheries expertise that exists at the University, and providing a mechanism for concerned groups and individuals to donate to much needed research that really makes a difference for wildlife and fishes in the region."