Meet Wyoming Outdoor Council’s new executive director

— May 14, 2013

Wyoming’s oldest statewide conservation organization — founded in 1967 by Tom Bell — has a new executive director at its helm. Gary Wilmot replaces Laurie Milford who led the organization for more than six years before resigning in February to spend more time with her family.

Wilmot arrived full-time in Lander in the late 1980s after studying geology and education at James Madison University. He joined the Wyoming Outdoor Council in 2008 as development director and became associate director in 2009. He recently stepped into the executive director role and talked with Peaks to Plains about the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s work in the state and how he likes to recreate.

Kelsey Dayton

Peaks to Plains:  What is your background — as in where did you grow up and how did you end up with WOC?

Gary Wilmot: I grew up in the DC area and when I was a teenager I came out to Wyoming to take a NOLS course, so I was right here in Lander and in some ways I fell in love this place then. … I took a NOLS instructor course right before college and then came back each summer to lead 30-day courses in the Winds in the summer. … When I graduated from college, I wanted to come back West and I got a job working for NOLS. I spent about 20 years with the National Outdoor Leadership School after that.

P2P: What did you do for NOLS when you came on staff?

GW: I mostly traveled throughout their operating areas which are all over the place and worked mountaineering and climbing courses. After doing that for many years I slowly moved into more administrative roles and started running their outdoor programs and building those programs. Eventually my last stop at the National Outdoor Leadership School was as a fundraiser. I was part of a team raising the $10 million to renovate the historic Noble Hotel in Lander and pay for the national headquarters. When that campaign wrapped up, I came to work for the Wyoming Outdoor Council as development director.

P2P: In your time at WOC, what are some of the biggest successes you’ve seen the organization achieve?

GW: There’s a couple. All of our successes in the Wyoming Range, which have occurred since 2009 with the Wyoming Range Legacy Act. … It was five years work to get from successful legislation – which was an amazingly broad effort among many conservation groups – and then more recently to the buy-out and retirement of nearly 60,000 acres in the Upper Hoback. And we were definitely integral to that at the outdoor council. The other big campaign that has persisted in the past six or seven years that the outdoor council has taken a leadership role in is management plan revisions, starting with the resource management plan in Pinedale.

It’s a really exciting time in Wyoming because almost half of Wyoming’s public lands are undergoing management plan revisions. … One of the most exciting things about a plan like the Pinedale one, in the … 1988 resource management plan, less than 10,000 acres in that field office were withdrawn from oil and gas leasing. In 2008, almost half of the field office land was protected from oil and gas leasing. … (The plan) protected the best areas for recreation and left areas with high potential for production. … That began our big campaign to influence those management plans. … If you kind of want to be in on the action at the front end, it’s a really exciting place to be. If you want to talk about the Wyoming Range again, if we had been successful in getting those areas designated for withdrawal from oil and gas leasing in the management plan, we wouldn’t have been dealing with buying out the leases. … We’re trying to work with land managers to protect the places at are most important. It’s not permanent, but it lasts for the next two decades.

Gary Wilmot is the new executive director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. (Photo Courtesy Wyoming Outdoor Council)

P2P: Are there any areas or issues in the state the council is really focused on right now?

GW: One of our top priorities right now is air quality, specifically related to the 24,000 new oil and gas wells in western Wyoming … It concerns us that the American Lung Association gave Sublette county an ‘F’ (in its state of the air report) and I think it shocked people in Fremont County to see it got a ‘D’ for ozone. … If you just look at Fremont County — we’ve got almost 9,000 new wells either right on the borders of the county or in the county and we don’t want to make the same mistakes we’ve made in Pinedale. … With the governor taking up base line testing right now with all this production cued up, it’s a big step. That is one our top priorities that it’s not just a rule, it’s a good rule.

P2P: With you taking on the executive director role will there be any changes at the Outdoor Council?

GW: Our focus will largely be the same. In the past decade we’ve been really focused on energy development — all types — and how that lays out on our land and how it affects wildlife populations and air and water. I can’t see a big change in our focus. I think those and managing and potential impacts of energy development will be our highest priority.

P2P: So backing up to that first NOLS course you took as a teenager, were you always interested in the outdoors?

GW: I was always very interested in the outdoors. I was into climbing in the DC area. There are some really good climbing areas outside DC.

P2P: Where are your favorite places to spend time outside in Wyoming now?

GW: I used to be an avid climber. I used to climb in the South Fork of the Shoshone in the winter climbing ice, or rock climbing in Sinks Canyon. … I now spend my weekends now mostly running and of course hiking with the family in the red desert and on all the great public land we have access to in and around Lander. I’m lucky with the outdoor council to get out and see some of the hidden gems in the state and get see why people love this place.

P2P: Any particular hidden gems you’ve discovered traveling around the state?

GW: I’m continually amazed at how much the Red Desert has to offer and still today how much it’s relatively unexplored. You can go to these spots and feel like it’s a grand adventure because it’s still pretty wild and untrammeled — if you are brave enough to take your automobile out there. That’s the risk.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com. Follower her on twitter @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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  1. My congratulations to Gary. He was a great development director and will be an outstanding executive director. The Wyoming Outdoor Council has always had an important place in protecting air quality, clean water, wild lands, and wildlife and that will continue with Gary and the excellent staff he has backing him up.