Volunteers from Casper, Wyo., Local 322 construct a custom elk jump at a state feeding ground, a project spearheaded by organizer Bruce Johnson, whose conservation efforts were honored this spring by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

Bruce Johnson, a Casper, Wyo., Local 322 organizer and avid outdoorsman, has been named the IBEW Conservation Steward of the Year for his leadership on volunteer projects protecting elk and their habitat.

Led by organizer Bruce Johnson, Local 322 members donated 700 hours of labor to build the “Shed Shed” to store the thousands of antlers that elk shed each spring on the National Wildlife Refuge in western Wyoming. The antlers are auctioned each May to raise money for elk habitat.

Presented by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, the award is given for exceptional efforts that bring union members together to donate their time and tradecraft to preserve the great outdoors.

“Bruce is a dedicated conservationist and volunteer whose leadership helps us execute projects that benefit wildlife populations cherished by his local community and sportsmen across the country,” Alliance CEO and Executive Director Scott Vance said. “His commitment exemplifies the spirit of union solidarity and community service that drives the USA’s mission.”

Last July, Johnson rallied Local 322 volunteers to build a custom fence-crossing for elk herds entering a state feeding ground in western Wyoming at wintertime. An exterior ramp allows elk to jump down to feed inside the refuge, while the fence discourages them from leaving until snow melts on grazing land beyond the boundaries.

Two summers earlier, Johnson headed construction of the popularly named “Shed Shed,” a garage-size structure for storing the thousands of antlers that elk drop, or shed, throughout the nearly 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge each spring.

Local 322 organizer Bruce Johnson, left, receives the
2019 IBEW Conservation Steward of the Year award from
Walt Ingram, director of union relations at the
Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

Local 322 members put more than 700 hours of volunteer labor into the Shed Shed, a project welcomed by refuge managers who previously used a hodgepodge of garages and trailers to store antlers until the annual Elkfest auction in Jackson Hole. The May event supports preservation of elk habitat and also benefits an area Boy Scout troop that scours the refuge to collect antlers.

Johnson, a journeyman inside wireman who began his apprenticeship in 1980, received the conservation award in April at the Construction and Maintenance Conference in Washington, D.C. He gave credit to the IBEW members who joined him on the projects, saying they “deserve as much recognition as I do.”

“They’re a good group of guys, family-oriented, community-oriented and all of them love the outdoors” – a prerequisite for living in Wyoming, Johnson said. “Like we say, you don’t live in Wyoming for the wages.”

As an organizer, Johnson has used Wyomingites’ shared enthusiasm for the outdoors to appeal to nonunion contractors and workers. His local sponsors an annual “Buck Contest,” with prizes for top deer antler racks, open to anyone in the electrical industry and immediate family.

“When you go to a nonunion contractor, if you walk in as the organizer, the fence goes up, they’re on guard,” Johnson said. “When we talk about the buck contest, the fences come down.”

By showcasing members’ skills, craftmanship and commitment, the volunteer projects are another way Local 322 is building bonds in Wyoming.

Watching the crew work on the Shed Shed, elk refuge employee Natalie Faith told an IBEW Hour Power interviewer that she’d gained “a better sense of the expertise that union workers bring to federal lands.”

“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” Faith said. “This project would not have been possible without their involvement.”