by nathan oster
The first recipients of a lifetime’s worth of Wyoming fishing and small game hunting privileges, courtesy of a memorial fund set up to honor Tom Easterly and Wayne Johnson, are a pair of Greybull High School students, Morgan Haley and Dante Sylvester.
Bill Robertson, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department game warden based in Greybull, announced the choices during a gathering Saturday afternoon at the office of the Greybull Standard, where in addition to Haley and Sylvester he was joined by Tom’s sister Cathy of Firestone, Colo., and his brothers Bill of Loveland, Colo., and Steve of Neenah, Wis.
Robertson capped the ceremony with a surprise presentation to the Easterly family, as Tom was chosen posthumously to receive a Wildlife Manager of the Year Award from the Wyoming Game Warden’s Association.
“Tom is smiling today,” said his sister, Cathy, after accepting the plaque from Robertson.
Easterly served the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for more than 22 years before his tragic death in the spring of 2014. He was a wildlife biologist in Greybull at the time, and after his death, donations came pouring in from friends and colleagues who knew him.
As a response to the outpouring, the Tom Easterly Memorial Lifetime Game Bird/Small Game License and Lifetime Conservation Stamp program was established. The family of Wayne Johnson, a longtime friend of Easterly’s who died earlier this year, felt so strongly about its worth that Wayne’s wife, Rita, directed funds from his memorial to the program as well.
Information about the program was shared with all of the school’s within Easterly’s wildlife biology district, including all of those in Big Horn County. Robertson said 10 students applied this year.
To be eligible, a student had to be between the age of 14 and 18 and file an application between Jan. 1 and April 15. Included in the application was a requirement that the students write an essay on the importance of wildlife.
Robertson said the essays submitted by Haley, who is going to be a freshman, and Sylvester, who is going to be a junior, stood out because they “reflected a far-sighted view of wildlife management” as well as the importance of conservation and the role that hunting and fishing play in bringing families and friends together.
Wrote Sylvester: “The reason hunting is important to me is because it is an activity that has been shared and taught to me by people who have had a big influence in my life at many different levels. It started as something I did with my dad and siblings and worked into an activity that various community members and friends have become a part of. There is always something new to learn, stories to share and laughing to be heard.”
Sylvester said he has no tolerance for “bending” the rules and regulations and stated that he’s helped in the collaring of sage grouse in several states and several times. He added that hunting brings family and friends closer together.
Haley touched on some of the same themes, calling hunting “a family tradition” and sharing some of her own hunting success stories. Among other things, she said she successfully filled her elk tag for the first time and hunted in a prized antelope area.
“Due to hunting, I have more respect for the public lands, private lands and wildlife. Not everyone has the same opportunities that I’m allowed since I live in Wyoming,” said Haley.
She finished her essay this way: “Hunting has taught me many lessons. Lessons that include how to be safe, responsible, respectful to the wildlife, respectful to the land, respectful to the other hunter and respectful to land owners.”
Dante is the son of Joe and Karen Sylvester.
Morgan is the daughter of Mike and Tracy Haley.
Both teens thanked the Easterly family, calling it a privilege to be the first recipients of the Easterly Memorial.
The committee that made the selections, and oversees the memorial program, consists of Bill Robertson, Bill Easterly, Tyson Probst, Tim Thomas and Tony Mong.
The Easterlys were in town for the P.E.A.K.S. bicycle ride from Cody to Shell. All three of Tom’s siblings completed the 68-mile trek, a fundraiser for cancer patients in the Big Horn Basin and a cause that was close to Tom’s heart.
Cathy Easterly said she continues to be amazed by the positive, far-reaching impact her brother left on the Greybull area. Every time she visits, she said she hears accounts from people whose lives he touched.