Ward of the wilderness

Yampa is the 'ideal community' for Bruce Sigler of state Division of Wildlife

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— Sitting at his dinner table, Bruce Sigler thought hard about the changes he has seen in the little town of Yampa in his 32 years there.

"There are more bear problems," he said finally. "And more lion problems."

Bruce has been the Yampa District manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife for as many years as he's been in the town. While Steamboat and other parts of the county were changing with newcomers, Yampa has stayed relatively the same, he said.

"We really haven't had the development problem," he said. "We still have legitimate ranchers and I don't think the Division has really changed much, either. The community is satisfied here. They don't want things to change."

That's precisely why Bruce and his wife, Connie, have stayed in the South Routt community since moving there in 1971, raising two sons and a daughter. They're satisfied.

The people, the country and the climate are big factors in that.

"It's an ideal community," he said. "We have felt no need to find another place that's better."

Folks around Yampa are highly educated. They care about the schools for their children and they care about the place they live in, Bruce said.

In addition to managing the wildlife in the 30-by-30-mile Yampa District, Bruce has become an active volunteer in South Routt.

He served on the Soroco School Board for five years, was on the Routt County Planning Commission for five years, drove the ambulance in Yampa for 10 years and was once the president of the new volunteer fire department in Yampa.

He also coached little league baseball in South Routt for 20 years and volunteered for 4-H, teaching wildlife and shooting sports for about 10 years.

"There aren't a lot of things around for the kids to do," so parents have to organize programs for them to keep them busy, Bruce said.

Volunteering also is an important element in being part of the community, he explained. It's also important in surviving in such a place. Choosing to live in Routt County is choosing a lifestyle, he said.

"Everything here, including your job, is your lifestyle," he said.

In cities, for example, people have their work lives and they have their home lives. For the most part in the Yampa Valley, there isn't much separation between the two, especially for Bruce.

"My whole family life has had to revolve around my job," he said.

"That's not always fortunate," added Connie.

During hunting seasons, Bruce has been up at 3 a.m. and not home until 11 p.m., checking licenses and seeing to animal damage.

Sometimes he would leave on the horses and be gone for multiple days, depending on the circumstances. Most of Bruce's years with the DOW was before cell phones, so if he was in the woods and had to be out for an extended period of time, there was no way to call home to tell Connie to go ahead and fix supper for her and the kids.

"It's pretty much a job that asks for a motivated person," Bruce said. "You can work seven days a week if you want to. It's difficult on a family from that standpoint."

But it also is a job that allows Bruce to be in his element. He loves hunting and fishing, which led him to study wildlife biology at Colorado State University, he said.

Bruce was born and raised in Rock Island, Ill. His father worked as an engineer for the Rock Island Arsenal designing rocket launchers.

Like many people early in life, after spending a few years at the University of Illinois, Bruce still didn't know what he wanted to do.

"I really was kind of drifting aimlessly. The draft was enacted at that time," he said. "It became apparent that I was going to be drafted."

To avoid that, he enlisted in the Army in 1963. After going through Officers Candidate School, Bruce found himself being part of the first military buildup in Vietnam two years later.

His job was the fire director officer for an artillery battery. He and his troops would be dropped by helicopter at specific points to provide artillery support for ground solders fighting in a battle.

He was apprehensive about the assignment. However, though he was awarded two battle stars for participating in two major battles, Bruce said his year in Vietnam was mostly uneventful.

"The most challenging part of the whole thing was the climate," he said.

After a year and one month, Bruce was pulled out of Vietnam and was given a choice of where he wanted to be stationed. Hoping to flee heat and humidity, he chose Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, were the climate was cool and dry. That's where friends of his introduced him to Connie, who was teaching grade school at the Air Force Academy, after moving from Wisconsin.

Though Bruce was yearning for cooler temperatures, Connie said the first thing she remembers about him was that he was very cold when he showed up for a date.

"He sat there and shivered for about 15 minutes," she said.

Not long after that, Bruce invited Connie to a formal military ball.

"We were a handsome couple," he said.

Bruce left the military in 1968 and looked into studying at Colorado State University.

Because Bruce like to hunt and fish, he chose wildlife biology to study at CSU. By March of 1968, Bruce and Connie were married and living in Loveland while Bruce finished his degree. He graduated in 1970 and after training received his job in Yampa.

"I'm planning on retiring in 2004," he said, making his stint at the position about 34 years.

In retirement he hopes to further pursue his passion for gun smithing he set up a shop in the garage for the business.

Bruce and Connie plan to stay in Yampa for part of the year. During the cold months, however, they may spend time in a warmer climate.

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