Bright futures
Walking out the door of a wall tent to a new, fresh blanket of snow is better than Folgers in your cup. It’s undisturbed on the surface, bright with promise and wet with opportunity. It’s a refresh, a reset and a chance to see clearly the different places you might head.  It's a chance to make new tracks. A new snow — that’s how I feel about 2021.

It doesn’t suffice to say 2020 was challenging. The year changed us in innumerable, individual ways. The pandemic certainly impacted how the Wyoming Game and Fish Department carried out business, but it didn’t stop us. Game and Fish took our charge to conserve wildlife and serve people more heartily than ever. Because when seemingly nothing was certain, one thing was: the Wyoming outdoors. Coronavirus didn’t take the wild away from that. Here’s what we’re most proud of this year.

We remained focused on our priorities. Game and Fish launched the Wildlife Crossing initiative to improve roadway safety for wildlife and drivers, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission invested $2.75 million in high-priority wildlife crossing projects. The initiative came alongside Gov. Mark Gordon’s challenge to put 2,020 Wyoming Conservation license plates on the road, a goal that united many working in wildlife conservation and showed the public’s commitment to reducing collisions with animals like mule deer, pronghorn and elk. 

One of our top priorities has been to protect Wyoming from potentially devastating effects if zebra or quagga mussels found their way inside our borders. I am happy to report Wyoming remains invasive mussel-free. Our aquatic invasive species inspectors worked at our borders and reservoirs to educate boaters and inspect watercraft entering our state. They kept check stations open during the summer and served the public professionally and safely. Game and Fish inspected a record-breaking 75,492 boats and other watercraft, nearly a 50 percent increase from prior years. We also spent significant time on contingency planning to ensure we can be responsive if new AIS are discovered in our waters. 

The Commission also invested in mule deer, putting $560,000 on the ground for habitat projects and acquired a new wildlife habitat management area outside Laramie, Pilot Hill, to manage crucial habitat for elk, mule deer, pronghorn and numerous species of conservation need. Further, the Commission approved Wyoming’s chronic wasting disease management plan after a months-long public process to form the recommendations. The plan was immediately put to use this hunting season, driving the CWD sample collection focus areas for deer and elk, adding to the growing body of knowledge on the disease.  

Wyoming citizens highly value wildlife and taking a role in management. They support key tenants of the North American model as well as fair chase when hunting is used as a management tool. When Grand Teton Park began implementation of their plan to manage mountain goats to protect bighorn sheep, Wyoming spoke loud to advocate for these values. The Commission and Game and Fish, alongside Gov. Gordon, worked together with Grand Teton National Park to craft a culling operation that involved the first-ever volunteer program where members of the public were used to achieve the park’s management goals. At one time, this type of an approach inside our national parks appeared very unlikely. The outcome was a monumental achievement and showcased that great things can be achieved when local and state managers work together with federal partners.

Our priorities drove us to innovate, to do better for wildlife and meet you where you were, which was a balance of online and outside. Early in the year, we had to cancel our Wyoming Outdoor Expo but held the event online with Expo@Home, and it reached nearly 1 million people. We also worked hard to bring the outdoors to you with WildLIVE, so you could get an up-close and exclusive look at wildlife from your home.

In 2020 Game and Fish stocked more than 6.9 million warm and cold-water fish, amounting to 516,557 pounds. We also did a test project of raising our own warm-water species. Currently, popular species like walleye and channel catfish are imported from other states. We sought to “test the waters” to see if a future warm water hatchery in Wyoming could be successful. Game and Fish worked on native fish projects, too, in drainages where local managers and the public have prioritized species like the hornyhead chub and cutthroat trout. 

When the weather warmed, more people felt inspired to head outside. Access to places to explore remained important, and many hunters and anglers utilized Access Yes walk-in areas and hunter management areas as well as Game and Fish-owned lands and access areas. Game and Fish encouraged families to get outside and explore these wild places with the Inspire a Kid WYO 100 checklist. That list is a lot of fun, and I enjoyed checking off many items with my family, like teaching my grandkids how to bait a hook.  

While I was on my boat, I saw a lot of new folks on the water. The fishing was good across the state and Wyoming anglers set some amazing records. Our trophy fishing recognition program awarded 1,016 Master Anglers, 43 Trophy Anglers and six Ultimate Anglers, and we had 200 anglers complete the iconic Cutt-Slam. I was able to log two new Master Angler entries and have a goal to achieve the Trophy Angler level in 2021.

Game and Fish took a little time to celebrate successes, too. The Commission was honored to receive the 2019 Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Commission of the Year award. Also, we’re happy to see the success of the WYldlife Fund, a new organization the Commission supported to help advance wildlife conservation.

That’s just a handful of what the Commission and all at Game and Fish accomplished over the last year, and we’re not shy about saying it’s because we value wildlife and people so much. That’s what keeps us going, even through a difficult year. I’m looking forward to making new tracks in 2021; not because 2020 is behind us, but because of the opportunities for Wyoming to be a better place. Happy new year from all of us at Game and Fish.
Sara DiRienzo (307) 777-4540

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