A retired Wyoming Game and Fish biologist who spent most of his career in southeast Wyoming is set to be inducted into the Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame later this month.
Rich Guenzel is scheduled to be inducted during a ceremony March 20 at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. The hall of fame honors individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to the conservation of Wyoming’s outdoor heritage.
Guenzel spent 27 years working for Game and Fish, moving to Laramie in 1990 to work as a terrestrial wildlife biologist.
Guenzel grew up in Texas and “escaped” to Wyoming when he graduated from high school and began attending the University of Wyoming, where he also did his graduate work. He attributed his love for the outdoors to his parents, grandparents and other family friends who took him camping, hiking and fishing as a child. He remembers childhood camping trips to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks as highlights.
“That had a profound influence on me wanting to be a wildlife biologist and live in this part of the world,” he said. “When I had the opportunity to get my undergraduate degree up here, I didn’t look back. I didn’t let the door hit me on the rear end.”
Guenzel focused on pronghorn as he earned his master’s degree, and he carried that expertise into his career. He was the first biologist in Wyoming to capture a pronghorn using a net gun from a helicopter, and he was part of a team that developed techniques to improve the accuracy of estimating pronghorn populations from the air. He was later part of the state’s pronghorn working group.
During graduate school, he did his first work using distance sampling during aerial surveys to gather information about pronghorn distribution. He then teamed up with scientists Bruce Johnson and Fred Lindzey and pilot Fred Reed to improve the accuracy of aerial surveys.
The basic strategy is to fly a sample transect of a given area that’s representative of the area as a whole, counting individual animals along the way. Factors that affect the ability to spot every individual include flying elevation, distance to the individual, the number of individuals in a group and even the skill of the counter. The better those factors are accounted for, the more accurate the count.
“In a lot of cases, we were pretty severely underestimating pronghorn back in the 1980s and 90s,” he said.
Guenzel coordinated statewide distance sampling of pronghorn and trained others on the best techniques. He also advised researchers from around the world on using aerial surveys to conduct distance sampling on species ranging from fish to elephants.
In reflecting on his career, Guenzel said he’s also proud of his participation in an effort to maintain the prohibition of private game farms in the state.
“I knew a bit about exotic ungulates put into new habitats, and that was why I got pulled in to help out on that process,” he said.
Chronic wasting disease wasn’t as big a concern then as it is today, but scientists knew that wild animals are vulnerable to diseases of all kinds spread by captive animals. Today, scientists know that concentrating big game in small areas is a sure way to spread CWD, and impacts of the disease on populations take decades to realize.
“The Wyoming landscape would be very different if they hadn’t won that one,” he said.
Guenzel said much of his work was done as part of a team and he owes his individual accomplishments to those around him.
“This honor is very humbling because there are a lot of people out there that really deserve it too,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be nominated.”
He was inducted into the Pronghorn Hall of Fame in 2010.
Other 2020 inductees into the Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame are Helen Roylance, Duaine Hagen.
Roylance, of Cheyenne, is the first woman to be a solo inductee. She was the first woman to be Game and Fish’s hunter and outdoor skills coordinator, and she established the department’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program in 1996. More than 1,000 have participated since then.
Hagen, of Meeteetse, has been outfitting and running guest ranches for hunters and anglers for 40 years. He served on the Wyoming Board of Outfitters and was honored with the Game and Fish Wildlife Stewardship Award. He has guided youth hunters and anglers for the Outdoor Dream Foundation and veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project.
For the first time, the hall of fame is honoring Isabelle Burky as its Youth Conservationist of the Year. The award honors a Wyoming youth for enthusiasm and leadership in outdoors and conservation. Burky, a high school senior from Worland, has worked in Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Glacier national parks building trails, monitoring wildlife, repairing historic structures and helping control noxious weeds.
The Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame was established by Gov. Dave Freudenthal in 2004.