Longtime Utah Natural Resources boss retires with replacement expected to be named Monday

Mike Styler, Division of Natural Resources

Mike Styler, the longtime director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, is retiring after more than 14 years on the job — making him the longest-serving person in that post, according to the governor’s office.

Styler called his tenure “incredibly rewarding,” especially his interactions with the more than 1,300 hardworking DNR employees and Gov. Gary Herbert, he said in a prepared statement.

“Utah faces a number of difficult opportunities moving forward with water, wildlife, recreation and fire particularly," Styler said. “DNR has amazing and dedicated people. They are up to the task of meeting those challenges."

His retirement is effective June 1.

Herbert is said to be nearing the end of interviews for candidates to replace Styler and is expected to name his nominee Monday.

Styler listed his major accomplishments as launching a watershed restoration initiative that has helped improve and restore an estimated 1.6 million acres, helping form a task force on water and playing a role in setting up the process for adjudicating water rights, as well as signing hunter access agreements with the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

One of Styler’s higher-profile activities — not mentioned in the news release Friday — was advocating for millions of dollars in public money to go to a private consultant/lobbyist for efforts to prevent the reintroduction of the gray wolf into Utah and on behalf of the campaign to remove endangered species protections from the wolf.

Styler even waived normal contract rules to allow upfront payment to consultant Ryan Benson, an associate of prominent and politically connected hunting advocate Don Peay.

Styler, during testimony in a legislative hearing, called wolves “the resurrection of the T. rex,” and “the perfect biological weapon.”

He later attempted to take back his T. rex comparison. “I misspoke. They’re more like velociraptors,” he said, referring to the deadly dinosaur popularized in “Jurassic Park.”

The payments have continued on a nearly yearly basis, including $500,000 in this year’s legislative session.

The governor called Styler’s leadership “invaluable,“ adding, “I will greatly miss having him as part of my Cabinet.”

"Mike’s leadership has been invaluable both to the Department of Natural Resources and to our state,” Herbert said. “... I wish him the very best.”

Styler served 10 years in the Utah House before being tapped for the Cabinet post by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman.

His entrance into politics was as a Millard County commissioner. Before that, he worked as a middle-school history teacher and farmed in the town of Oasis.

Deputy Director Darin Bird will serve as interim director of the department until Herbert’s new pick is installed.

Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune, is a brother of former Gov. Jon Huntsman.