The state’s top game warden took planning for the influx of total solar eclipse fans seriously. After years of countless meetings, followed by the supervision of several teams protecting state land and assisting the hoards chasing the sun and moon, Brian Nesvik has realized he may have over-planned.
Nesvik wears two hats at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. He’s the chief game warden, in charge of the department’s law enforcement arm, and also leads the wildlife division. He took the lead on planning for the department, beginning three years before the eclipse. Two years out, the department had finalized its plans and 12 months from the eclipse, it started hosting regular meetings leading up to Aug. 21.
“We put together a comprehensive statewide plan,” Nesvik said while presenting a summary of the event to the Game and Fish Commission on Tuesday in Lovell, adding, “This was a multi-agency event. Every division was involved.”
Nearly every Game and Fish employee was on hand across the state — concentrating on four main destinations in the totality zone — to welcome and educate visitors. They anticipated problems.
“Our past experiences are if you have a lot of people at the lake, there’s problems,” he said, referring to Glendo Reservoir southeast of Douglas. “The people that did come did not cause problems.”
They found visitors to be respectful of the land, resulting in low violation rates. Estimates say that more than a million people flocked to Wyoming for the celestial event. The main issue was the traffic.
“On that Monday [Aug. 21], it was gridlock. They all came in at the same time and they all left at the same time,” Nesvik said. “Roads were so gridlocked, even with emergency vehicles we had difficulty moving around the state.”
Tens of thousands of visitors were from the front range of Colorado, according to reports from Game and Fish employees out on the welcoming and educational mission. And most were not traditional outdoor people.
There were a couple of issues the planning team overlooked. One was heavy back country use. People headed to trailheads looking for viewing space as special as the eclipse itself. Some towns were all but ignored by visitors.
“On the day of the eclipse, they said it was slower in downtown Jackson today than on a normal summer day,” Nesvik said.
The department planned for fires. None happened. They planned for human and wildlife conflicts. None were reported, although at least one rattlesnake was relocated. They knew many would want to view the eclipse from boats so they planned check stations to search for invasive species. They even planned for several tragedies happening at the same time. Not one tested them.
One issue that surprised the team were calls from a number of people wanting to know the legality of animal sacrifices.
“People were calling our offices and asking what are laws were for sacrificing chickens and sacrificing cats. We didn’t anticipate that in the plan,” Nesvik said.
He said the department planned for the worst, but was pleasantly surprised.
“Landowners demonstrated the true spirit of Wyoming. It was a very positive experience,” Nesvik said.
A member of the commission did pose a question at the end of his presentation.
“How many cats were sacrificed?” asked Mike Schmid, commissioner from LaBarge.
There were no citations written for cat or chicken sacrifices, Nesvik said; it’s not illegal in the state.
In fact, he said there were relatively few citations written. A few violations were written for unregistered watercraft and a few for fishing without a license — usual violations found on a summer day.
“Maybe we over-planned it a little bit, but at the end of the day, I think we did it just right,” Nesvik said.