Living where you work
Of all the cool and interesting jobs at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, working at a fish hatchery has to rank near the top.
You get to be around and raise fish to be stocked in waters throughout the state for anglers of all ages to catch and enjoy. You live in picturesque parts of the state including Daniel, Story, Ten Sleep and Dubois.
There also is a unique part of fish hatchery work — full-time employees and for a couple of months a few temporary workers live on hatchery grounds. Can you imagine living where you work? It’s not for fun and scenery, though. Employees live on hatchery grounds because it is critical.
“They provide security to the facility 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and it allows them to respond immediately to emergencies and alarms,” said Guy Campbell, Game and Fish culture supervisor.
Those emergencies and alarms range from fish health issues, mechanical failures, equipment repair and sudden changes in water flow and quality — to name a few.
All 10 of Wyoming’s hatcheries and rearing stations play vital roles in maintaining quality fisheries around the state, but not are equal in terms of who lives on the grounds. The Dan Speas Fish Hatchery near Casper, the state’s largest which produces more than half of the state’s fish, has seven employees on site. The Ten Sleep Hatchery has three, along with a temporary employee in the summer. There are rotations where someone is always on call, and juggling that can be a challenge. But even when an employee is done for the day and heads home, that home is mere feet from the “office.”
“Even when I’m not on duty and at home I look out the window, see stuff out there and your mind is always thinking about things that are coming up,” said Brad Welch, superintendent of the Tillett Springs Rearing Station, about 17 miles northeast of Lovell on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains. Welch has been stationed at three hatcheries in his 38-plus years with Game and Fish and has been the superintendent at Tillett since 2011.
“You learn to adapt to it,” Welch added. “It is give-and-take with family. They help you through it. I think it’s important to have some friends and some associations who aren't at the hatchery. If the hatchery is the only place you have, work is going home with you every night. You have to get away and do other things.”
Work-life balance
It’s important to have a balance no matter the job or where you live. However, work-life balance takes on a new meaning when you live where you work.
“To be successful you need to find a balance,” Welch said. “I’ve known a few people over the years that after two or three years at a hatchery they were burned out because they had trouble leaving work at work.”
When Welch became a hatchery superintendent, one of his former supervisors gave him some sage advice about employees who struggle with work-life balance.
“You have to keep your employees happy at home or they’re not going to be happy at work,” Welch said. “You have to make certain they make that work-life separation. If they don't, their family life suffers and then their work suffers even more.”
Part of achieving a healthy work-life balance is employees being flexible to the needs of others who work and live there. For instance, if someone wants to attend their kids’ school functions, pitching in for extra on-duty work or filling in where needed goes a long way to promote a healthy work-life balance for everyone.
Another factor is having hobbies or activities away from the hatchery, and also, respect for one's privacy.
“We work together and we practically live together due to the close proximity of the residences,” said Bart Burningham, superintendent at the Ten Sleep Fish Hatchery. “In addition, you constantly have visitors moving around the facility at all hours of the day and some of them don’t necessarily respect your privacy. As such, it’s imperative that we as coworkers give each other their space and respect each other’s privacy when we are not on the clock and working at the hatchery.”
Building relationships with coworkers goes a long way to make life easier living and working at hatcheries. Welch said there are employee get-togethers at Tillett. They meet at one of the employees’ houses, roast marshmallows over a fire pit and just talk. However, there’s one rule.
“You can’t talk about work,” Welch said.

Fish-Hatchery2.jpgLars Alsager has been the superintendent at the Dan Speas Fish Hatchery near Casper for 10 years. He and his family live at the hatchery. (Photo by Chris Martin/WGFD) 

Speas Fish Hatchery is less than 20 miles from Casper — Wyoming’s second-most populated city. The Clark’s Fork Hatchery is 29 miles north of Cody, and also in close proximity to Powell. Those who live at those hatcheries are close to conveniences such as shopping, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.
Lars Alsager has lived and worked at six fish hatcheries throughout his career. Alsager has been the superintendent at Speas for 10 years, and his previous hatchery experience was in Idaho.
“Some were in towns of 100 and some were in towns of 70,000,” Alsager said. “They all have their allure and drawbacks. It is always nice to be able to run to town and grab a gallon of milk, as well as the other opportunities that a large town or city provides. But, it’s nice not to have to pay $8 for a gallon of milk like sometimes you do in small communities.”
That’s not the case at all of Wyoming’s hatcheries and rearing stations. 
Ten Sleep Hatchery is nine miles from the town of Ten Sleep — population 214. Nearby Wigwam Rearing Station is about four miles from Ten Sleep. The closest, larger community is Worland, about 30 miles away with a population of about 5,200. 
Tillett is about 50 miles from Cody. The closest town is Lovell, and Welch said it has a hardware store, one small grocery store and three gas stations.
Hatcheries such as Dubois, Daniel, Auburn and Boulder share similar isolation circumstances in terms of being a significant distance from more populated areas.
However, fish hatcheries were not built or designed to be in populated areas due to their primary need: access to a clean, ample water source. Isolation is part of the deal — some more than others.
Burningham and his wife, Aleene, have been married 33 years. She knows what life is like at a hatchery and the isolation, and she’s embraced it.
“I love the isolation of Ten Sleep, the little-town atmosphere is calm and peaceful most of the time,” she said. “I do have to say we take a trip once a month to one of the bigger cities to get groceries and experience the city life. It is our ‘big-city outing’ to go to Walmart, Maurices, etc., and it takes two hours to get there and two hours back. I’m always glad to get back home after our city trips. The location of the fish hatchery is far enough away from the busyness of our town that you feel that you are in your own oasis.”
Family affair
Aleene describes living at fish hatcheries as a “wonderful, uplifting, intersoul experience.” She enjoyed raising her and Bart’s two sons, Hunter and Logan, around hatcheries.
Hunter followed in his dad’s footsteps and has worked at Speas Hatchery since 2014, serving as a senior fish culturist there since 2019. Hunter also worked at Wigwam as a full-time employee and as a temporary worker at the Daniel and Tillett facilities. Hunter grew up at the Speas, Dubois and Ten Sleep hatcheries — all places his dad worked.
“Hunter is what you would call a ‘hatchery brat’ in that he grew up and has spent his whole life at one hatchery or another,” Bart said. “As a youngster he would pop into the buildings from time to time to see what his dad was up to.
“Not surprisingly, he was always interested in seeing the fish and seemed to always have plenty of questions for me. Early on when he was about 8-years-old he used to go out and engage the public in discussions about the hatchery. On many of those encounters, be it his idea or theirs, he would tag along during their visit and show them around the hatchery.”
Bart and Hunter have never worked together at the same hatchery, but have attended Game and Fish meetings and occasionally worked together on projects.
“Working together would be a conflict of interest,” Hunter said. “We both have strong personalities and opinions, and it may be best to not work with family. However, we do spend most of our time off together beating the water, fishing or tromping through the mountains.
“We may never get the chance to work together, but if I ever get the chance to manage the Ten Sleep Hatchery I would enjoy the challenge of seeing if I could run it as well as my dad has — or maybe even a little better. If not, I hope to manage my own facility and get it up to the standard the public and I have come to expect at his facility.”
Alsager grew up at fish hatcheries. His dad was a hatchery manager for Idaho Fish and Game for 32 years. Alsager began his hatchery career in 2003.
Alsager’s wife, Kristen, lived at four fish hatcheries as her dad worked for Idaho Fish and Game as well. The Alsagers have been married 10 years and have two young boys, Kyler, 8, and Kayder, 6. Kristin said they were married less than a year when he was offered the job at Speas.
“I love the fact we get to live where Lars works,” she said. “I feel as a family we get to see him more. He does not have to get up early and commute to work, and he also gets to come home for lunch. It has been great for our family to spend time together.
“Having fish hatchery and fish culture experience has helped me with this lifestyle. I truly understand how it works and what it takes. My parents made it a family deal, and with Lars also coming from hatcheries, we continue this with our own family. Our kids are always eager to learn about and see all the species raised at Speas. I would have to say it is in their blood. I could not be more happy to watch them grow up being a part of the hatchery lifestyle.”
Words of wisdom
Welch recalled a time when he worked at Speas when a summer thunderstorm dumped about 4 inches of rain in about 30 minutes. Water flooded the facility and backed up water screens. Welch was there and did what he could to keep a bad situation from getting worse.
“We did lose some fish, but if no one had been there it could have been a disaster,” he said.
That’s a good example of why employees live at hatcheries.
“I can’t imagine what would happen if we turned it over to security guards watching over television screens,” Welch said. “If there was a lightning strike that blew something up or any other kind of emergency, what are they going to do?”
Added Hunter: “For the good of the facility you have to figure out how to mitigate these situations.”
Those who seek careers at fish hatcheries/rearing stations know living on the grounds is part of the job. Still, this line of work isn’t like most jobs and adjustments — even sacrifices — have to be made.
“Rarely a day goes by that I don’t do something work-related, even though I am scheduled off,” Alsager said. “I do have a good ability to turn off work in short spurts, which allows me to spend time with my family and enjoy time off. This is the life I chose and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

— Robert Gagliardi is the associate editor of Wyoming Wildlife.
Photographer Info
Patrick Owen/WGFD

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