Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the conservation community are mourning the loss of former Colorado Division of Wildlife director John Walter Mumma, who died Sept. 1, 2022, following a long bout with multiple myeloma cancer.
Mumma’s career advocating for natural resources and wildlife across the West spanned more than four decades. Following his time with the U.S. Forest Service, Mumma was named director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1995 and would serve until the summer of 2000.
“The last four years have been some of the most memorable in my 40 years of natural resources service,” Mumma said upon announcing his retirement. “My career has provided a remarkable number of outdoor experiences throughout the West. One of the most rewarding was to have the opportunity to work with the personnel in the Colorado Division of Wildlife.”
Mumma was admired by his peers and remembered for guiding the Division of Wildlife through a time of extensive management review.
“This was one of the most challenging times the Division has ever faced, and John accomplished far more than I ever dreamed he could,” said then Wildlife Commission Chairman Chuck Lewis when Mumma retired. “He has been a tremendous asset to the state through his commitment to natural resources. It will be a tremendous task to replace his leadership at the division.”
Following his retirement, Governor Bill Owens named the new native fish hatchery in Alamosa after him. The facility, the only one of its kind in the United States, is known as the John W. Mumma Aquatic Species Restoration Facility. The unique facility focuses solely on threatened, endangered or declining aquatic and amphibian species.
At the time of the dedication, acting wildlife director Bruce McCloskey said the hatchery was the “vision” of Mumma and the wildlife commission. It was a fitting tribute to Mumma, who was dedicated to improving the state’s hatcheries.
As director of the Division of Wildlife, Mumma oversaw several other major accomplishments, including the purchase of more than 100,000 acres of wetland habitat and the reintroduction of Canadian lynx to Colorado. Now 20 years later, there are an estimated 150 to 200 lynx that have spread throughout southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and across the state’s high country areas.
“It was a remarkable accomplishment with a lot of luck associated with it,” Mumma said in a 2017 article in The Durango Herald. “It made me feel extremely good to help restore a part of the natural world that had been taken away from southwest Colorado.”
Southwest Colorado had a profound impact on Mumma in his early days. Born in Farmington, New Mexico, Mumma would attend Fort Lewis College in Durango before eventually graduating from the University of New Mexico. He also attended Oregon State University and Colorado State University, working summers for the San Juan National Forest Service out of Durango.
During a 40-year career in natural resources, he served in a multitude of roles. According to his obituary, Mumma’s assignments included the Range and Wildlife sub-staff assistant in the San Juan National Forest Supervisor’s office in Durango; Assistant Ranger position on the Collbran Ranger District of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests; Snow Ranger at Powder Mountain Ski Area; Range and Wildlife sub staff on the Apache National Forest in Springerville, Arizona; Fisheries and Wildlife staff to the Southwest Regional Office; District Ranger at the Cloudcroft Ranger District on the Lincoln National Forest; Resource staff for Timber, Range, Wildlife and Fire on the Shoshone National Forest in Cody Wyoming; Director of Wildlife and Fisheries for the Intermountain Region, Ogden, Utah and from there to the Rocky Mountain Region in Denver as head of Range, Wildlife, Fisheries and Ecology. He then transferred to the National Office in Washington, D.C. on the Programs and Legislation staff. In 1987, he was reassigned to the Northern Region located in Missoula, Montana, as Deputy Regional Forester. That same year, he was promoted to Regional Forester.
Mumma was proud of his accomplishments and awards. He received the Aldo Leopold Medal from the Wildlife Society. He was awarded the Superior Service Award from the Secretary of Agriculture, the Conservation Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation, and the Ernest Thomas Seton Award from the 50 State Fish and Wildlife Agencies for having the outstanding fish and wildlife leadership program.
When he was on the Shoshone, he proposed a land stratification for grizzly habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Area that would help provide for grizzly recovery. And he served on the Interagency Grizzly Bear (IGBC) Committee for nearly half of his natural resource career. Mumma also had a hand in the acquisition of the Bosque del Apache elk habit in southern Colorado. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recognized him for several elk habitat projects in both Montana and Colorado.
Mumma also was selected as the chairman for developing and implementing the Congressional Designated Chief Joseph National Historic Trail (the Nee Mee Poo Trail of Tears).
While Mumma, who retired to La Plata County and continued to advocate for wildlife and wild places, was proud of his many accomplishments, he was most fond of his 46-year marriage to his best friend and wife, Myra, who held his hand as he passed away on their 46th anniversary.
He is survived by Myra, two children, Rinaee (Pete) Loebs and Johnny Lance Mumma, as well as two stepchildren, Merette Riley and Chris Nielsen. Mumma is also survived by eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is celebrating its 125th Anniversary throughout 2022 to honor the legacy of our agency and the talented staff who make fulfilling CPW’s important mission possible. For more stories like this, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s 125th Anniversary web page!
Written by John Livingston. John is the Southwest region public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.