Brian Nesvik met his first game warden when he was 14, mule deer hunting with his dad.
The teenager listened to the warden talk about his life – spending every day in the middle of nowhere, scanning for wildlife, talking to hunters and investigating crimes.
Nesvik knew that day he would be a warden. Now, after almost 25 years with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, working his way from game warden trainee to chief warden, Nesvik is leading the entire department.
The Casper native became director of Game and Fish on March 1, appointed by the newly-minted Gov. Mark Gordon.
Since then he’s been working with various groups on all sides of Wyoming’s fisheries and wildlife issues, said Game and Fish Commissioner Pat Crank.
“A large majority of people in Wyoming are very passionate about our wildlife,” Crank said. “So in the job of director of Game and Fish, it is incredibly important to have open lines of communication.”
The Star-Tribune recently caught up with Nesvik, who is also commanding general and assistant adjutant general of the Wyoming Army National Guard, to get his take the state’s most pressing fish and wildlife dilemmas and where he wants to see the department in the future.
Casper Star-Tribune: What are the biggest issues facing the department in the next five years? 10 years?
Nesvik: There’s a pretty long list, but I would say aquatic invasive species is a high priority for the department and a big issue. We continue to have a state that is free of aquatic invasive species and you compare and contrast what the effects are by looking at another one of our top issues, which is the invasion of terrestrial invasives like cheat grass. I think we still have an opportunity to prevent aquatics from coming into our state, having impacts on a lot of different parts of our economy as well as our natural resources.
Wildlife crossings are a big issue now because we have great new information on where we can actually have some effect, and there’s a lot of public support for doing something about collisions on the road. We’ve got some excellent science that informs decisions on where we ought to work on crossings, and we also have a lot of data on where we have a lot of animals that are killed on the highway. We have done some work in the past, but there’s still a lot of work yet to be done. I think it needs to be a priority and the public does, too.
Migration corridors are fairly well aligned with crossings but don’t focus on roadways [as much as] how we ought to use landscapes and how the state of Wyoming ought to craft its policy around balancing the needs for wildlife and the corridors they use and the needs for our primary economic drivers.
There’s some great opportunities along these lines to look at habitats across the state, both terrestrial and aquatic. There’s some awesome opportunities to do stream restoration and fish migration, which is fish passage. There are some of the same issues facing native fish in the state as there are facing big game. Their corridors and abilities to move around and to use all the habitats they need in their life cycle are impeded in many ways.
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Chronic wasting disease continues to be an issue and the formation of a working group is a great start to trying to figure out what our future policy is and how we are going to deal with CWD. But this is a long road and we will be dealing with this long after my career is complete.
Lastly, grizzly bears continue to be an important issue for the state. There’s very little disagreement that grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone are recovered, but we still don’t have state management and so work towards figuring out how to accomplish that is a priority for the department and a priority for the state.
CST: How fiscally sound is the department?
Nesvik: We’re financially in great standing. We had some unforcasted revenues in fishing sales and Pittman-Robertson that came as an increase in gun and ammo sales over the last several years, but that’s tapering off now. The commission has put aside some money for high priority projects but we don’t have a lot of predictability for how revenue will change for inflation.
There’s going to come a point, it’s not tomorrow, it’s not the next legislative session, there’s going to come a point though where we’re going to continue to have to look at where the next increase in revenue is going to come from. Right now without increases in license fees, it’s going to have to come from somewhere else. It’s not the Commission’s prerogative to grow the department or expand it significantly but I’m talking about inflation and normal routine in revenue that’s going to be required for the department to continue to do what we already do.
CST: What are your concerns for the future of Wyoming’s fish and wildlife?
Nesvik: I think there are some huge threats out there right now that scare me. Things like cheat grass scare me, other invasives. Things like wildlife disease. There’s a lot of wildlife challenges out there, but I’m very optimistic about the future of natural resources and wildlife in the state.
I’ve seen throughout my career this change in our citizens’ value in wildlife, and it’s increased. Most people in our state have concerns and value wildlife, and when you have people who care and have passion about an issue, I believe we can solve these challenges and I believe there’s an interest by most Wyoming citizens to having wildlife resources like we do now or even more in the future.
I think all of us need to be focused on what we are going to do for our kids and grandkids. My hope is, and I think the goal of the team that I’m lucky enough to lead is to makes sure that those resources are there for our kids and grandkids.
CST: Anything else you’d like people to know?
Nesvik: I really feel strongly the future of our state’s wildlife rests in our abilities today to be able to show our kids how important these resources really are. I draw from a lot of my personal experience as a kid. I got into this career because I was inspired by a guy in a red shirt about 35 years ago. Luckily, somebody took me hunting when I was 14 years old, my dad and a good friend of his and I got to experience that. And now I’ve spent my whole life dedicated to it.
It’s important we do that for our kids both to make sure we have wildlife managers and people who want to wear red shirts in the future but even more importantly so we have people in the state who care about wildlife and are willing to be passionate about it. We need people who care about wildlife.