Exercising Leadership on Problems With No Easy Answers and Colliding Perspectives

Brad Hovinga

Brad Hovinga

For Brad Hovinga, being a conservation warden was sort of the family business. His father was a warden in Utah who frequently took him along as a boy. “I grew up in the passenger seat of his warden truck,” he said.

His brother is also a Utah warden.

Brad has strayed from this pattern slightly. He is also in conservation law enforcement, but his career has been in Wyoming. He was a field warden for 23 years, serving in Big Piney in western Wyoming for 13 years and Lander for seven more.

He is a published author, with two stories in the fourth edition of “Wildlife Crime: Stories from Wyoming’s Wildlife Officers”. Both his stories involved the killing and wasting of a moose by individuals who did not have moose permits.  They were caught by Hovinga and prosecuted.

Two years ago, he became the Jackson Regional Wildlife Supervisor. Now he not only supervises field wardens, but also wildlife biologists, as well as education and office staff.

Hovinga said he loved being a field warden, but it was time for him to take on more responsibility.

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“It just hit a point in my career where I could contribute more to the mission.  I saw the potential to have a greater impact on things that really matter, so I decided to take on more challenge.”

The new job brought him to one of the most beautiful spots in the world with the Teton Range in his backyard, but also one of the most expensive areas to live.  He couldn’t afford to live there if the department didn’t rent a house for him, he said.

Development in the area poses a challenge for wildlife management. People attracted to the area by its natural beauty like being able to see elk out their front windows, but farmers who own the nearby fields where the elk graze are not as happy.  Managing human/wildlife conflict is one of the challenges he faces daily.

Hunting is not usually allowed in national parks, but elk hunting is allowed in Grand Teton National Park under an agreement with the state.  “In order to manage our elk we need to harvest elk.  Without that ability, we would not be able to control elk numbers,” Hovinga said. In 1950, when the park was expanded, this was done with the condition that elk would be co-managed by the state and National Park Service. 

On a daily basis, Hovinga works at the intersection of colliding interests, values and mindsets regarding wildlife, and best how to management it in the public interest.  For example, his department cooperates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operating a winter elk feeding ground at Jackson. This is a compromise that does increase the possibility of disease, but it keeps the elk away from agricultural areas and allows the department to keep elk numbers at level the public wants, he said.  Statewide there are about 22 winter elk feeding grounds.

He is heavily in involved in managing grizzly bears and wolves, two species that always generate attention. Wolves were recently delisted and are now managed by the state.  “We’ll have the first wolf hunting season in several years this fall,” he said.

“As society changes, we find ourselves with many adaptive challenges in carrying out our public trust responsibilities concerning wildlife in Wyoming.  My experience at the academy helps me approach these types of problems, problems with no easy answers that requires everyone to learn their way into a solution.”