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On Patrol in Wyoming's High Country
By Kerry Brophy
Just another day at the office: Rick takes to the saddle in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains.


When Rick Pallister goes to work, he wears a red shirt, ventures high into Wyoming’s mountains on horseback, and sometimes has close-calls with angry wildlife. Pallister, who was a NOLS Instructor during the 1970s, is a game warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish department. His job is to patrol the remote Big Horn Mountains in northern Wyoming, enforcing laws and regulations designed to protect and conserve fish and wildlife.

Rick, shown here during his NOLS days, says Paul Petzoldt taught him to “make a plan, implement the plan, and if it doesn’t work, change it.”

“I get up early,” Pallister says of his work days. “Then I get in my green truck and start singing cowboy songs.” It’s the perfect job for a man whose family calls him “lone” because he’s so comfortable working by himself in the mountains. His office is as broad as the Wyoming sky and as tall as the Big Horn peaks. “I know I’m not a cubicle person,” the game warden admits.

In a sort of modern-day re-enactment of the old West “Cowboys and Indians” theme, Pallister rides through his backcountry jurisdiction, investigating wildlife poachers and collecting information on the condition of animals in the area. As a game warden, he has to know something about everything he sees along the way, from the smallest fungus growing on alpine rocks to the largest grizzly. Pallister has a zoology degree, which he says helps him understand how “everything fits with everything else.”

Pallister’s had plenty of exciting encounters in the mountains. “There’s always a fresh crop of crooks out there,” he says. “You can’t convince everybody to play by the rules.” But some of his biggest adventures have come not from the two-legged variety, but rather from some of the mountains’ more wild inhabitants. He’s been chased by moose and bear and has had to deal with many injured animals — some that can be saved and others that can’t. His most recent adventure occurred when an angry female moose forced him to hide out under his truck. Her calf was caught up in a fence and, upset and disoriented, she made a fuss. Eventually Pallister was able to free the calf from his predicament.

In these more heart-racing times on the job, the game warden draws on lessons he learned thirty years ago with NOLS. “I learned from [NOLS founder] Paul Petzoldt to make a plan, implement the plan, and if it doesn’t work, change it,” he says. He also uses teaching skills on the job, training younger biologists and game wardens. For this work, he still feels like he’s in the NOLS classroom. “I like to teach,” he says. “I can make a classroom out of any setting.”

As remote as Pallister’s work takes him, he still manages to run into other NOLS graduates. In fact, he knows a rancher near his home in Buffalo, Wyoming who was his student 20 years ago and still remembers climbing one of Wyoming’s highest peaks. “NOLS is all about networking,” he says. “It astounds me how broad and successful that network has become.”

Pallister says someday he’ll hang up his hat, but for now his mission to work for Wyoming’s natural resources still motivates him. “We have to fight the good fight so we still have room for antelope, moose and other wildlife,” he says. “You just have to keep your oar in the water and look out for rocks.”

Indeed, his job has never looked better. “I love living here. I’m not the type who can look out a window.”

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