Wyoming Game And Fish Director Brian Nesvik To Retire

After announcing his pending September retirement Wednesday, Brian Nesvik received high praise from people he worked with as director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Mark Heinz

April 03, 20246 min read

Brian Nesvik
Brian Nesvik (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Whoever replaces Brian Nesvik as the next director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will have their work cut out for them, said some Wyomingites who’ve worked closely with him.

Game and Fish on Wednesday announced Nesvik’s plans to retire in September. A request from Cowboy State Daily for an interview with Nesvik is pending.

“I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to have served as the director and worked alongside the incredible people who wear the uniquely red uniform shirts of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department,” Nesvik said in the statement. “It has been a privilege to work with dedicated, passionate professionals who are committed to conserving wildlife, serving our citizens and preserving Wyoming’s heritage.”

Nesvik began his career with Game and Fish in 1995 and was appointed as director by Gov. Mark Gordon in 2019.

He served the agency in various positions, including as a game warden, regional wildlife supervisor and chief game warden.

Complicated Task

The task of the Game and Fish director goes far beyond managing wildlife, Wyoming legislator Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

It involves navigating the complex intersections of various interest groups with a stake in wildlife management, including hunters, ranchers and the energy industry, said Hicks.

“He has an ability to look at complex problems from a range of different perspectives and come up with a range of solutions that work for everybody,” Hicks said. “He was very good at understanding other people’s perspectives and advocating not just for a position, but for a solution.”

Hicks worked closely with Nesvik on numerous matters. Most recently, they helped get a legislative bill passed that will pave the way for bighorn sheep to be reintroduced to the rugged Sweetwater Rocks area in central Wyoming.

Nesvik and Hicks were also instrumental in gaining approval for a proposed $10 million state shooting complex, which advocates hope will bring world-class competitive shooting matches to Wyoming.

‘Service Is In His DNA’

Sportsman and mule deer conservationist Josh Coursey worked with Nesvik on the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force and various other projects.

He praised Nesvik’s service, not only with Game and Fish, but with the Wyoming Army National Guard.

“While I knew this coming at some point, the retirement of Brian and his storied service to Wyoming is second to none. From leading Wyoming’s National Guard to our WGFD (Game and Fish) at the highest of positions of responsibility, there is no greater example of service to the Cowboy State. Brian Nesvik is a great leader,” Coursey told Cowboy State Daily.

Nesvik served with the Wyoming Army National Guard for 35 years before retiring at the rank of brigadier general. He commanded troops on two combat tours in Iraq and Kuwait.

Coursey said he doesn’t think that retirement will be particularly laid back for Nesvik.

“In regards to Brian Nesvik riding off into the sunset to build pole barns and sing to his cows, mark my words here and now, guys like Brian don't know how to not serve,” Coursey said. “Service defines him and runs deep in his core. Brian is Wyoming and Wyoming is Brian. You will see him again in service, trust me. It is in his DNA.”

Challenging Topics

Nesvik led Game and Fish during a challenging time.

Wildlife disease, massive winterkill, tensions over land use and continuing debates over whether to delist grizzly bears from federal protection — and possibly re-list wolves — were all hot topics during Nesvik’s tenure.

Last year, Nesvik testified before members of the U.S. Congress in favor of delisting grizzly bears, something that has yet to happen.

But Nesvik made a strong case for delisting.

“The reason (grizzly bears) remain listed is not based in biology, but rather in administrative complexities and technicalities espoused by federal judges and court decisions,” Nesvik said during testimony at that time before the U.S. House Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee.

“Each time this population has been delisted, the proverbial goal post required to delist has moved — and each time it has moved, the states have responded with corresponding changes to regulatory mechanism and statues,” he added. “But to date, to no avail.”

Nesvik handled those and other challenges well, noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich told Cowboy State Daily.

"Brian has done an outstanding job leading the Wyoming Game and Fish Department through one of the most challenging periods I can remember,” Ulrich said. "Navigating sage grouse, feed grounds, migratory corridors, devastating winters and a myriad of other issues in addition to the core responsibility of managing our world class wildlife resources isn't easy and Brian and his team have been up the task.

“His dedication to our wildlife and our way of life has always been evident. I wish Brian the very best in his next chapter."

The Road Ahead

Those and other challenges lie ahead for the next Game and Fish director, Hicks, Coursey and Ulrich said.

How to deal with elk herds that are far above objective numbers in some parts of the state will continue to be a vexing matter, Hicks said.

“It’s extremely difficult when you’re dealing with some areas that are 96% private land,” Hicks said.

So, it will be important for the next director to have the sort of savvy Nesvik displayed for finding a balance between the interests of hunters and landowners, Hicks said.

"The next director will be faced with significant and growing challenges related to federal land management changes and ever-increasing pressure on our lands and fisheries,” Ulrich said. “I am confident that the Game and Fish Commission and ultimately Governor Gordon will select a new director that understands our challenges, fights for us and most importantly listens and works with us."

“The challenges will always be there,” Coursey said. “Legislative engagement, invasive species, wildlife population objectives (below and above), disease, predation, working with our federal partners, private landowners and the sporting public, staffing shortages, budget restraints, endangered species monitoring, this list is long and full of challenges.”

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter