Worland native takes over as wildlife biologist in Big Horn County

by nathan oster

Sam Stephens won’t need a map or a tour guide to find his way around Big Horn County, where he recently took over as the senior wildlife biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Stephens grew up in Worland, where his dad was also a wildlife biologist.

“I spent most of my time as a kid along the Big Horn River chasing pheasants, ducks and whitetails and running around the mountains chasing elk,” he said. “I was obsessed with hunting and fishing all over the Big Horn Mountains. My dream was always to work up here.”

It took awhile for it to happen. After high school, Stephens attended the University of Idaho in Moscow, where he obtained a degree in wildlife biology. To help pay his way through college, he worked on BLM fire crews.

Stephens eventually returned to Wyoming and worked for a researcher doing a project on sage grouse while taking graduate-level classes at the University of Wyoming.  That was followed by a season as a cropland damage technician in the Big Horn Basin and three seasons as a large carnivore biologist in Jackson, doing wolf/bear/lion conflict management, before he landed his first wildlife biologist job a little over a year and a half ago in Baggs.

When Leslie Schreiber decided to take a statewide position with the G&F, Stephens pounced.

“This is the location I wanted to end up in,” he said. “As much as I liked Baggs, all the people and that community, when this job became available, there was no question in my mind that I had to apply for it.”

Stephens was asked about following in his father’s footsteps.

“He influenced me a lot, without question, but it was moreso just by introducing me to hunting, fishing and the outdoors — and less from a professional standpoint. I guess you could say he introduced me to the enthusiasm of outdoorsmanship.”

Stephens started his new job in early January. He has been commuting from Worland, where he’s living with family, but is in the process of purchasing a home in Greybull. He said Schreiber has been a big help in the transition, noting that she was very organized in her recordkeeping and has shared a lot of information with him.

In January, he participated in big-game surveying efforts which involved a helicopter-aided canvassing of the west slope of the Big Horn Mountains.  The initial conclusion of that study is that the North Big Horn herd is “relatively stable,” but that “we’re a little over objective” further south on the Medicine Wheel.

He said his top short-term priority is to gain insight into what the community and hunting public want from the Game and Fish Department.  “I want to know what their desires are and what their grievances are,” he said. “It’ll take me a year or two to get my feet totally under me, in the sense of what needs to be done.

“Right now, though, I don’t feel there’s any need for me to come in and make any changes.”

The Greybull biologist’s district stretches from U.S. Highway 16/Ten Sleep Canyon all the way north to the Montana state line.  Stephens said he is very familiar with the southern half, but less so with everything north of Shell. “To be honest, though, that’s a big reason this district was so attractive to me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting out and exploring what I haven’t seen.”

When asked if G&F employees view the Greybull district, and this part of the state in particular, as a plum assignment, Stephens said, ‘”I think it’s the best job anyone could ever ask for.”

In terms of Game and Fish, right?

“No, I think it’s the best job anyone could ever ask for. Period. I’m biased, I suppose. But I truly couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”

To reach Stephens, contact the Cody regional office of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.