William Hepworth, George Baxter and Gary Butler were inducted into the Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame Thursday night in Cody, joining the ranks of 53 Wyomingites recognized for their contributions to conservation in the state.
The Outdoor Hall of Fame was created in 2004 by then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
“He wanted to create a way to recognize the people who have done phenomenal work, consistently over the years and worked to preserve and give back to our natural resources,” said Sara DiRienzo, a public outreach specialist with Wyoming Game and Fish.
It was one of the first such institutions in the country and has since served as a model for other states, she said. The Hall of Fame serves as an exhibit at the Draper National History Museum at the Buffalo Center of the West in Cody.
Honorees are nominated by the public and selected by a committee.
If you’ve studied Wyoming’s fish, you are probably familiar with the work of Dr. George T. Baxter, DiRienzo said. Baxter was inducted posthumously.
“He led the way in fisheries conservation for 40 years,” she said. “He’s known as the father of fisheries in Wyoming.” It was a title given to him by the Colorado-Wyoming chapter of the American Fisheries Society.
Baxter was born in 1919 in Grover, Colorado and raised in Burns, Wyoming. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II before earning a bachelor’s and then master’s degree in zoology from the University of Wyoming. He earned a doctorate from the University of Michigan.
Baxter was known as an “old-school naturalist,” DiRienzo said. He knew about everything in the natural world from forestry to herpetology.
In 1965 Baxter conducted a full survey of the state’s fish. He also discovered the Wyoming toad, which led to conservation efforts to protect one of the country’s most endangered amphibians.
His books “Wyoming Fishes,” and “Amphibians and Reptiles in Wyoming,” written with Mike Stone, are often referenced today, decades after publication, DiRienzo said.
“They were the most comprehensive publication of those species at the time and are still among the most comprehensive publications today,” she said.
Baxter taught at the University of Wyoming for three decades in the fishery biology program until his retirement in 1984. He died in 2006.
“One of the most phenomenal things Dr. Baxter did was mentor hundreds of students throughout his career,” DiRienzo said.
Those students went on to make their own contributions to science and Wyoming’s outdoors. One of Baxter’s protégés, in fact, was a man named William Hepworth, who is also an inductee into the hall of fame this year.
Hepworth of Laramie, is known as “The Dean of Pronghorn,” a nod to the early, groundbreaking studies he conducted on the animals.
But what makes Hepworth truly stand out is his efforts to help others, said Rich Guenzel, a friend, former student and colleague of Hepworth’s.
Guenzel met Hepworth while studying wildlife management and conservation at the University of Wyoming. Hepworth, an adjunct professor, lectured on wildlife issues and later sat on Guenzel’s graduate committee. Later they were colleagues at Wyoming Game and Fish.
Hepworth grew up on a dairy farm and cattle ranch in Star Valley. He served in the Army National Guard and then began a 38-year career with Game and Fish. He started as a fish biologist in 1956, while working on his undergraduate degree in wildlife conservation and management and a master’s degree in zoology.
At Game and Fish, Hepworth bridged tenuous relationships between the agency and ranchers on issues such as grazing.
“He kept the doors open when other people were shutting them,” Guenzel said.
Hepworth served as director of the Game and Fish Research Laboratory and director of technical research for most of his career and helped develop the research facilities at Sybille.
Hepworth studied numerous species like elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and trout. But his impact spans far beyond his own research, Guenzel said. Hepworth was known in the research world for his willingness to help others on their work.
“He’s a common thread through a lot of important studies,” Guenzel said.
Gary Butler’s work with the Whiskey Basin bighorn sheep herd laid the foundation for how bighorn sheep are managed today in the western United States, DiRienzo said.
He was instrumental in trapping and relocating bighorn sheep to re-occupy historical ranges in the West.
Butler worked for Game and Fish for 40 years. His field work included studies on alternatives to feeding elk hay on the National Elk Refuge and two other elk feedgrounds near Jackson. He pioneered new range survey and winter habitat improvements for elk and bighorn sheep.
Butler was born in Gillette where he learned to hunt, train horses and fix fences. He studied at Casper College and served two tours of duty in Vietnam. When he returned home he earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from the University of Wyoming and then a master’s degree in range management.
He worked across the state during his career with Game and Fish before retiring in 2012 as the statewide supervisor for the Terrestrial Habitat Division.
Butler was known as a skilled communicator and for his ability to bring stakeholders together, DiRienzo said.
He started the Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep Technical Committee, which is still active today, she said.
Butler’s passion for the outdoors extended beyond his job. He loved to explore the backcountry on horseback, DiRienzo said. In 2005 he rode 736 miles from Richards Gap, Utah, near the state border due south of Rock Springs, across Wyoming to Cooke City, Montana.
Wyoming Game and Fish is taking nominations for 2019 inductees here.