By Tom Reed
I’ve been thinking about two of my friends lately. Both of them have been gone for a while. I miss them. But I remember them and, perhaps more importantly, there’s a place in Wyoming that will remain forever wild because of them.
A short time ago, more news about the Wyoming Range hit the media. Several people and groups rose to the occasion to take credit, but a wise man once said you can get a lot done if you don’t worry about who gets the credit. This is completely true of my two friends.
The news story: Several thousand more acres of wild Wyoming will remain that way, thanks to a buy-out of a gas company’s interest in keeping the Wyoming Range the way it is and was and always will be. Now the headwaters of the Hoback River are protected from gas drilling and somewhere, I think Duane Hyde and Craig Thomas are smiling.
Duane Hyde was a retired game warden who had worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for 40 years. Years ago, when we first started talking about protecting the Wyoming Range — and its three subspecies of cutthroat trout, its trophy elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and moose — from industrial development, it was Duane who came to help.
I didn’t know him then, but I knew that he had retired with Badge Number One, the honor bestowed upon the wildlife officer with the most seniority in the department. He was a Mormon rancher, a Wyoming native, this iconic cowboy, the embodiment of the Wyoming Range.
So I introduced myself. We talked bird dogs for a bit — we both had a passel of bird dogs and a passion for bird hunting — and then I asked him if he’d help. It was a big ask.
In short order, Duane became a champion for the range. He was Gary Cooper-esque — strikingly handsome and memorable. His face appeared in mass mailings, billboards, and newspaper advertisements seen by people across the West, many of whom had never set foot in the Wyoming Range. He guided Sen. John Barrasso into the heart of the Wyoming Range and pointed out places where trout swam and mule deer bedded. He traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with congressmen and senators. He was a 70-year-old cowboy who had never been to our nation’s heart. He and I walked around and took in all the sights of the big city after a long day of meetings, and then he told me: “I think I’m ready to go back home to Wyoming.”
Duane and I became fast friends and good bird hunting partners, and we traveled to places like South Dakota and Wyoming’s Red Desert and Arizona together. When he died, I inherited his best bird dog from his family and Duke, though old now, is still pointing birds with the same passion that his pal Duane hunted them.
My other friend was Sen. Craig Thomas. A Cody native and the uncle of a good friend, Craig was the kind of old-school politician who knew that in order to get things done, one had to seek balance and common sense. He also shared a love of wild country, good saddle horses and Wyoming with me. I had known him for a long time, dating back to when he was Wyoming’s lone U.S. representative and I was a young managing editor of a small town newspaper in Lander. He spoke with reason and a smile.
Craig crafted the legislation that would become the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, with sportsmen like Duane backing his play. The act made 1.2 million acres, an area more than half the size of Yellowstone National Park, off-limits to industrial gas development. It also made it possible for a buy-out and retirement of existing gas leases in a willing buyer-willing seller arrangement. It was innovative, visionary and true Wyoming. Craig’s staff members were working hard on the legislation just before he passed.
I was on a river trip when I learned that Craig had lost his battle with leukemia. Oddly enough, I was on a river when I learned that Duane had died of a sudden heart attack. It’s a weird stroke of serendipity, perhaps, but I know of rivers and headwaters and streams in Wyoming that will flow forever pure and support healthy trout populations for generations of youngsters to catch because of what Duane and Craig did. I hope they are remembered and get some of the credit. I don’t think they cared about credit, and that’s why it’s important to tell their story. It wouldn’t have happened without sportsmen and it wouldn’t have happened without Duane and Craig.
Tom Reed is the Northwest Regional Director of the Sportsman’s Conservation Project of Trout Unlimited and, with many others, worked extensively on behalf of TU toward the passage of the Wyoming Range Legacy Act. Reed now lives in Montana with his ever-expanding herd of bird dogs and mountain horses.