Will Troyer was born in 1925 in Indiana to an Amish/Mennonite family that drove a horse and buggy until he was about 10. A series of serendipitous moments led him to the National Wildlife Refuge System and his legacy as a bear wrestler.
An elementary school teacher sparked Troyers interest in birding. A bulletin board notice at Oregon State University prompted him to head to Alaska, where he marked pink salmon fry for a commercial fishery. Then he found work as a wheel watchman on the Situk River. During a 30year career with the Department of the Interior, he worked first for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a law enforcement officer and later managed Kodiak and Kenai National Wildlife Refuges. He conducted research studies on brown bear, moose, caribou, bald eagles and trumpeter swans, often flying wildlife surveys in remote Alaska.
In the 1950s, he pioneered the live trapping of brown bears for science. Nobody knew much about bears. To get the information, we had to get some ear tags in the bears, but no one had ever captured them. The first year I caught eight bears, Troyer said during an interview with the Alaska Trappers Association. He continued his work with bears for the National Park Service, and spent seven summers as a bear photography guide along the Katmai Coast after retirement.
As manager of Kenai Refuge, Troyer initiated the canoe trails that are now nationally recognized. A couple of times a week, I would just grab one of my assistants and my maintenance man and we would go out and cut portage from one lake to another, he recalled during an oral history interview by the National Conservation Training Center.
Kevin Painter, a Service regional environmental education specialist in Alaska, says Troyer was ahead of his time, leading the way with innovative ideas and plans of action from wildlife research to visitor services.
Troyer received the prestigious Olaus Murie Award from the Alaska Conservation Foundation in 1987 for his lifes work in wildlife conservation. He has written three books, From Dawn to Dusk: Memoirs of an Amish/Mennonite Farm Boy; Into Brown Bear County; and Bear Wrangler: Memoirs of an Alaska Pioneer Biologist.