Origins of the Outdoor Council: Tom Bell, founder

Tom Bell

Tom Bell

THE FOUNDER OF THE WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL, Tom Bell, said he started the group because, by the mid-1960s, he could no longer ignore the threats facing his “beloved homeland.”

His vision, he said, was to bring together various organizations throughout the state to speak as one voice on conservation issues.

“The first meeting was held in Casper,” he said. “I remember a sense of excitement. Maybe we could all pull together to work on some of these issues and get something accomplished. And we did.”

A decorated war hero

Tom grew up on a ranch outside of Lander, Wyoming, during the Great Depression. He was born in 1924, descended from Civil War soldier Edward Alton, who came to Milford, Wyoming in 1878.

He is a decorated World War II veteran, who flew with the 15th Air Force on bombing missions throughout Eastern Europe. He successfully completed 32 combat sorties and earned the rank of lieutenant as part of the 455 Bombardier Group.

He was awarded the Silver Star in 1944 for gallantry in action.

On May 10, 1944, Lieutenant Bell was bombardier of a B-24 on a mission to bomb an enemy aircraft factory in Austria, when he was severely wounded by a burst of flak that sent him into shock and led to the loss of his right eye.

When he returned home he found sanctuary, he said, in Wyoming’s wide-open spaces. Tom attended the University of Wyoming where he earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in wildlife conservation and game management. His course of study emphasized ecology and zoology.

He founded the Wyoming Outdoor Council in 1967.

High Country News

Tom resigned as director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council in the early 1970s. He founded the High Country News, a paper that started as a small local camping magazine, which he built into an award-winning national news journal on Western environmental issues.

Although he resigned as director of the Outdoor Council, he later returned as a board member, and today continues to serve as a board member emeritus. Bell was featured in the 2006 documentary A Land Out of Time , which describes the effects of energy development on the western landscape and the people that live there.

Bell has won many awards for his conservation work, including the National Wildlife Federation’s Jay N. “Ding” Darling Award, for Conservationist of the Year in 2002. The award was established “to honor individuals who have made exceptional lifetime contributions to the cause of conservation,” according to the National Wildlife Federation. Previous recipients of the award include President Jimmy Carter, oceanographer Sylvia Earle and U.S. Sen. John Chafee.

Bell also received the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s Sargent Award for Lifetime Achievement in Conservation in 2007, and the Wyoming Citizen of the Century from the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center in 2000.

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  1. […] to the Great Divide Basin, it was the Northern Red Desert’s open spaces that provided solace for Wyoming Outdoor Council founder, Tom Bell, during his recovery from injuries sustained during his military service in World War II. […]