Former Campbell County Commissioner and Gillette City Councilman Stephen F. Hughes, 66, was found dead inside his business, Landmark Inc., early Friday morning, according to information released by …
LARAMIE, Wyo.— When you spend almost 30 years driving empty back roads across Wyoming, you might start to measure time differently.
Retired game warden Roger Bredehoft measures the years with a list of four names: Chase, Data, Bruin and Bear.
"That's 30 years' worth of dogs," he said.
Two yellow Labs and two chocolate Labs.
"Great dogs, all. They'd listen to you all day long and never say a word. They were good company," he said.
Bredehoft retired from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department this fall after working as a game warden since 1983, most recently in northern Albany County. That's a couple thousand square miles of sage brush, mountains and big game. It's about 125 miles to the community of Esterbrook by mostly dirt roads, which marked the northern tip of Bredehoft's jurisdiction.
"They give you a truck, a gun and a law book and say, 'Go get her and never worry.' It's the best job in the world," he said.
Bredehoft grew up in northeastern Colorado, earning an education degree from the University of Northern Colorado. He went back to school intending to earn a degree in speech pathology, but he changed his mind at the last minute and decided to study zoology instead.
After finishing his degree at the University of Wyoming, he worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as a biologist. After spending a couple years working on short-term projects, he took the game warden's exam as a way to move into a full-time position. When a full-time biologist position came open a few years later, he decided being a game warden suited him just fine.
Bredehoft was based in Green River, Jeffrey City and Wheatland before becoming the North Laramie game warden.
Back in the day, game wardens weren't restricted to how many miles they could drive or how many hours they could work, and Bredehoft remembers logging more than 300 hours a month during hunting or watercraft season (if you do the math, that's 30-straight 10-hour days).
He remembers a professional seminar he attended where the speaker warned about the No. 1 way law enforcement officials steal from their employers: They log time they don't actually work. The game wardens in the crowd had a nice chuckle about that one.
"Most guys are like me, and the only reason they've got supervisors is to try and slow them down," he said.
Laramie Region wildlife supervisor Rick King agreed that Bredehoft has logged the hours over the years.
"Roger has displayed an admirable level of commitment and ability fulfilling the wildlife management responsibilities in each of the districts he has been assigned," King said in a press release.
Bredehoft is still an active member of the legislative arm of the Wyoming Game Wardens Association, which lobbied to influence wildlife laws.
He said he's proud of the association's work to increase the punishment for taking big game on their winter range. Before the implementation of a statute known as 102(d), the fine for taking an animal out of season was $450.
During Wyoming winters, big game herds congregate where food is still available, usually because the area is open and blown free of snow. The animals are concentrated in larger groups, and they're highly visible.
"People go out there and they see these huge bucks and bulls like they've never seen in their life, and they kill them. They kill them for the horns. That's the only reason. They're not shooting them for the meat that time of year. That's all trophy," Bredehoft said.
When a hunter might pay several thousand dollars to an outfitter in an attempt to harvest the same trophy animal during the regular season, a fine of a few hundred dollars is nothing.
The Game and Fish Department even had evidence of a group that regularly traveled from California to take winter-range prizes.
"It just didn't seem like enough," Bredehoft said.
With the implementation of 102(d), anyone who takes big game out of season or without a license faces a minimum fine of $5,000, up to $10,000, and possibly a year in jail. They could lose their hunting privileges for life. Additionally, the department can seize anything used in the crime, such as guns, knives and vehicles.
"In one case in Cody, we seized a helicopter," he said. "It got their attention."
In many places across the state, the game warden is the public's main connection to the department that regulates hunting seasons and manages the state's wildlife.
"My house was the office; my wife was the secretary. If people had questions, they came to my house or they called me on the phone," he said.
Game wardens enforce the state's wildlife laws, but their role extends beyond checking hunters for licenses.
"The most important thing you can do in any district is to get your landowner relationships good," Bredehoft said.
As the department works to open more private land for hunting access, the process can go more smoothly if the landowner already knows the local game warden. For Bredehoft, building relationships sometimes meant settling in for a visit.
"They hardly ever get to town. They're on their ranches. You've got to plan on spending a little time. They want to talk and they love to talk," Bredehoft said.
King said Bredehoft has worked hard to maintain public access for hunting and fishing.
"Roger was the Wheatland game warden when the department's Private Land Public Wildlife program started. The work he did in getting this program up and going in Platte County helped ensure the program's long-term success," he said.
Ask Bredehoft about his dogs, and he might tear up. But ask him about dealing with a crime scene, and he'll stress the importance of keeping his emotions in check.
"The important thing is you don't let the moment overtake you," he said. "The main thing you want to do is make sure everything's in line and that you've got all the facts right."
Game wardens protect Wyoming's wildlife, and that's what motivated Bredehoft to leave his house at 4 a.m., push through a snowstorm or spend a dozen hours patrolling a reservoir.
"That drives enforcement . that drives your seasons, that drives your being out there to see what's going on. And that's really important," he said.
Information from: Laramie (Wyo.) Daily Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com