Many people found it easy to criticize Greg Sheehan when he was named the new director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in November.
Sheehan had spent 20 years with the state wildlife agency but was not coming to the job as a biologist like his predecessor Jim Karpowitz. Nor was he coming from the law enforcement arm of the agency, like Karpowitz's predecessor.
Sheehan's role as the chief of administrative services since 2002, however, seemed to play a role in the announcement. It does, after all, fit into the current mantra of the Utah Legislature to treat government more like a business. Still, many in the wildlife community wondered how Sheehan would do without strong hands-on biology experience to lean on in the new position.
Michael Styler, Sheehan's boss as executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, was among those with questions.
"I was a little surprised Greg had come out so strong after the search committee identified him as the No. 1 candidate after their meeting," Styler said. "The next day I spent time with each of the five candidates. They were all excellent candidates, but, by the end of the day, I realized I agreed with the search committee."
Styler said he talked to Sheehan and told him that understanding the business and finance side of the agency was important, but because he was not a biologist, DWR biologists might have "some fear and trepidation as to whether you can do the job."
In the end, Styler was confident Sheehan's passion for wildlife, interest in listening to his employees, experience with the numbers side of DWR and "an uncanny ability to come up with common-sense solutions" will make him successful.
For his part, Sheehan is dedicated to hearing from his staff, more than 500 of them, and has been traveling across the state carrying a huge folder with one page dedicated to each agency employee. The page includes a picture of the person, job title, how long each has worked for DWR and room for notes.
"I have really enjoyed the meetings; they have been the best part of the job so far," Sheehan said. "There are some great ideas within the DWR, but it has also been important for me to hear the frustrations. My goal is to implement as many of the ideas that we can and address as many as the frustrations as we can."
Through mid-January, the DWR director said he was almost halfway through his goal of meeting with all his employees.
Sheehan also knows that great ideas can come from outside the agency so he assigned his Leadership Team section chiefs within the Salt Lake City office and regional directors to study the websites of one Western state and one Eastern state wildlife agency and report back to the group with ideas for possible projects and why Utah did or did not already offer the program.
"There was some grumbling about why we couldn't just come up with our own ideas, but we had some interesting discussions based on those reports," Sheehan said, "and I think we talked about things we probably would not have if we hadn't gone through that process."
"I've accompanied him on a couple of trips," Styler said. "We meet with employees and county commissioners, whomever we can think of from the area. Greg is really dedicated to hearing from multiple people about issues regarding the DWR."
Sheehan said he doesn't think important matters should be discussed only during the Utah Legislature's 45-day legislative session, which began Monday.
"I'd rather hear about issues or concerns before the Legislature," he said. "There are a lot of things we can do to try and solve problems. Sometimes the government has failed when the only thing that has been done is that a law has been passed."
Sheehan has also found time to do some of the wildlife biological work he missed out on during all those years as the administrative section chief.
He recently found himself on the tail end of mule deer that had been captured for transplant from Parowan to an area north of Fillmore. Sheehan put on gloves and went to work helping to collect samples for disease testing and assisting in putting collars on the deer before they were loaded for transport to their new home for the study.
"That's the way Greg is: burning the candle at both ends," Styler said. "I expect he will be like that for a while until he reaches his comfort level as the director."
DWR Director Greg Sheehan
Age • 50
Education • Graduate of Utah State University, MBA from the University of Phoenix
Experience • More than two decades with the Department of Natural Resources; has served as Division of Wildlife Resources administrative services chief since 2002
Personal • Lives in Layton; married with two sons