The Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame class of 2018 includes two scientists with Laramie ties in George Baxter and William Hepworth.
The hall of fame, which was established in 2004, honors people who have made signification contributions to the conservation of Wyoming’s outdoor heritage. An induction ceremony is scheduled for March 15 in Cody.
Baxter was a leader in fisheries conservation in Wyoming for more than 40 years, including 30 years as a professor at the University of Wyoming. His expertise ranged from fish management, forestry and agriculture to ichthyology, herpetology, entomology, mammalogy, geology and hydrology.
He directed UW’s summer science camp in the Snowy Range for nine years, mentored hundreds of students and authored publications considered standard references in his field.
In 1946, he discovered the Wyoming toad, also known as Baxter’s toad or anaxyrus baxteri. The toad was listed as an endangered species in 1984. George Baxter died in 2006.
Chris Baxter, the grandson of George Baxter, said his grandfather loved the outdoors, loved teaching and was always curious, even during his retirement years. That curiosity and love of nature rubbed off on his grandson, who spent his childhood fly-fishing, hunting and spending time outside.
“I consider myself very lucky,” Chris Baxter said. “Most people don’t have that type of education as far as the outdoors goes.”
Chris Baxter remembers his grandfather’s house being filled with fish, toads and even a couple boas, which escaped into the basement one time before they were caught with gopher traps.
“My grandmother was furious,” he said.
Chris Baxter spent his summers at the science camp, where he tied flies as he learned all about aquatic insects.
“I can still name off the Latin names of most of the bugs in the valley here,” he said.
Chris Baxter said his grandfather was always humble whenever he was given an award. If George Baxter were alive today, Chris Baxter said, he would be similarly humble about being inducted in the Outdoor Hall of Fame.
“I can picture him now: ‘I just did what I loved to do,’” Chris Baxter said.
George Baxter was honored by UW with its Outstanding Former Faculty award in 1995, and in 2005 he was given the Conservation Service Award from the Department of the Interior.
The award honors outstanding direct service to the department from individuals not employed by the department.
One of the many students who was mentored by George Baxter was Bill Hepworth, who received bachelors and master’s degrees from UW. Hepworth assisted George Baxter with research during his student years in the 1950s, and George Baxter later supervised his thesis work.
“He had a big influence on me and my ability to go on and work with the Game and Fish Department,” Hepworth said.
Hepworth, who lives in Laramie, began his career in 1956 as a fisheries biologist. He spent 38 years with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department while doing research on pronghorn, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep and trout.
He spent a large portion of his career directing the Game and Fish Laboratory and its research, and he served as wildlife management coordinator and head biologist for southeast Wyoming.
Hepworth helped establish the Sybille Wildlife Research Center, later renamed in honor of Tom Thorne and Beth Williams. There, scientists studied diseases such as brucellosis and chronic wasting disease while also developing techniques for marking and immobilizing big game animals and handling them in captivity.
Last year, Hepworth was inducted into the Pronghorn Hall of Fame, which was created by the Western States and Provinces Pronghorn Workshop, for his contributions to the understanding of the species.
He conducted studies on pronghorn in the Red Desert that provided baseline information for future research, and he co-authored a study on abundance and distribution that is still referenced today.
Hepworth said the Hall of Fame honor was unexpected.
“It’s very gratifying to have people recognize the work that you’ve done through the years,” he said.
At the same time, he credited colleagues and fellow scientists for their own important contributions, including Thorne, Williams, Tom Moore, Doug Mitchum, Duane Howe and others.
“I rather feel like I’m just an example of many others who could have received it as well,” he said.
He’s planning to attend the March 15 ceremony, where he will be joined by a dozen friends and family members, including his daughter, son-in-law and longtime administrative assistant.
“It’s nice to have this recognition for your friends and your family, because I think they appreciate that as well,” he said.
Gary Butler, who lives in Cheyenne, is the third member of the hall of fame’s 2018 class. Butler worked for Game and Fish for 40 years as a check station attendant, fish warden, biologist and statewide supervisor of the Terrestrial Habitat Division.
He spent much of his career studying alternatives to feeding hay to elk in northwest Wyoming and managing bighorn sheep near Whiskey Mountain. He also developed techniques for range surveys and improving winter habitat.
The Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame has 53 past inductees.