SALT LAKE CITY — The man credited with shepherding Utah's wildlife agency for nearly five years — building the state's reputation as one of the best wildlife managers in the West — was tapped Monday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to help lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Greg Sheehan will become the national agency's first deputy director in a newly created position and will serve as its acting director until a permanent director is named by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate.
"I am thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Secretary Zinke and the great team at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," Sheehan said. "I look forward to helping promote the fish and wildlife resources in America through collaborative partnerships with states, local government, the sportsmen's community and others."
Sheehan, who has been director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources since 2012, brings 25 years of experience in the wildlife sector and natural resources to the position. He is also credited with helping to restore many fish and wildlife species in Utah to levels not seen in more than a century.
An avid fisherman, hunter and aspiring wildlife photographer, Sheehan has been at the forefront of developing and promoting landscape-scale habitat restoration, wildlife fencing to reduce animal-vehicle collisions, underpass construction and translocation of big game species such as deer, bighorn sheep, bison and mountain goats.
Under his leadership, the state's mule deer population has increased by more than 100,000 animals.
Sheehan, who begins his new job on June 19, said he is most proud of strengthening the division's relationship with the fishing and angling communities. He added he hopes to bring that same level of cooperation and trust to Washington, D.C., to forge a better relationship between the federal government and the states.
Sheehan's boss, Mike Styler of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said he believes Sheehan is up to the task.
"(Sheehan) will bring to Utah and all the states that deal with the Fish and Wildlife Service a level of pragmatism and practicality," Styler said.
During his time at the wildlife agency, Sheehan's passion for angling helped connect more people — both young and old — to the pastime.
He promoted the development of community fishing ponds to encourage young anglers and more family outings, and partnered with other agencies to refine the sport for others, including the development of the Utah Cutthroat Slam Challenge.
Sheehan, a graduate of Utah State University who has a master's in business administration, has also encouraged the promotion of archery, tripling membership in the National Archery in the Schools Program in Utah.
Sheehan serves on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal/State Joint Endangered Species Act reform task force, as chairman of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' Private Lands and Conservation Committee, and as chairman of Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies' Threatened and Endangered Policy Committee.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Sheehan's legacy in Utah includes strengthening the agency he led.
“Greg has been a tremendous asset to the state of Utah for more than 25 years. Under his leadership Utah has led the nation in wildlife management, restoration and conservation. Greg is dedicated to the land he loves, and he leaves behind a significantly stronger Division of Wildlife Resources,” Herbert said.
Zinke praised Sheehan's leadership abilities.
“We are grateful to have Greg Sheehan join our team and help lead USFWS as we advance a pro-conservation and more collaborative agenda at the department,” Zinke said.
“His experience and proven record in wildlife service, as well as his organizational management skills, will be an invaluable asset to the service and the department.”
Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said Sheehan's new role will serve the wildlife community well.
“This is very exciting news for every sportsmen in America,” Peay said. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can play a substantial role in the conservation of land, water and wildlife."
Kevin Pritchett, vice chairman of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife Board and owner of King's Camo, also praised Sheehan's selection.
“The multibillion dollar hunting and fishing industry depends on strong national leadership for conservation as well as pro-hunting and fishing agendas. (Sheehan) will be an incredible breath of fresh air to America’s sportsmen who contribute more than $1.1 billion to conservation annually through excise taxes on our outdoor gear."
The division's deputy director, Mike Fowlks, will serve as interim director until a permanent replacement is found.