WSF OFFICE STAFF
Gray Thornton, President & CEO - Editor in Chief, Wild Sheep®
Gray N. Thornton serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF), the premier sheep and mountain game conservation organization in the world dedicated to “Putting and Keeping Wild Sheep on the Mountain®.”
Prior to joining the Wild Sheep Foundation in 2008, Thornton served as Executive Director of the Dallas Safari Club from 1997-2008 and Chapter & Membership Director for Safari Club International from 1990 – 1997 producing record results for membership growth, fundraising and mission funding for both organizations. Thornton followed his passion to the conservation/hunting industry after a successful sales career with Unisys and Xerox corporations.
As a public speaker he has been invited to present keynote addresses on wildlife conservation and hunting and angling ethics internationally to diverse audiences ranging from civic and sportsmen’s groups, to international associations, the Serbian Parliament and former Presidents of the United States of America, France and South Africa.
Gray was awarded the “Wildlife Utilisation Award” by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), the Association’s highest conservation honor. He also received PHASA’s highest service honor, and the Coenraad Vermaak Distinguished Service Award and was the first non-South African to be so recognized. Thornton has received the President’s Award from the Guide Outfitter Association of British Columbia for his years of dedicated service to the hunting and conservation community. As an Outdoor Writer, he received a Katie Award from the Press Club of Dallas representing the southern USA for the best Outdoor Story of the Year with “Iron Horse Fly Fishing.”
Thornton serves on the Board of Directors of Bear Trust International where he serves as Vice-Chairman of Board. He has also served on the Boards of the Conservation Fund, the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa Conservation and Empowerment Fund, the Ballot Issues Coalition, the Banovich Wildscape Fund, and the Lone Star Outdoor News Foundation.
He is a Summit Life Member of WSF, a Chadwick Ram Society Member, a WSF Legacy Society Member, and a Life Member of numerous WSF chapters and affiliates. Thornton is also a Life Member of SCI, NRA, DSC, TU, a Monarch Life Member of Wild Sheep Society of BC, and a Life Member of many guide/outfitter associations.
He is an avid hunter as well as salt and freshwater fly fisherman and has hunted and fly fished throughout North America and internationally including 17 safaris to Africa and has hunted in New Zealand, Germany, Mexico and Canada. As a mountain hunter, he has taken all Four North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS), a Rocky Mountain goat as well as tahr and chamois.
He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and Marketing from California State University at Fresno and has earned advanced credits in Wildlife Management from Colorado State University at Fort Collins.
Thornton resides in Manhattan, Montana with his wife Renée, their Weimaraner Sage, and Vizsla Sienna.
Kevin Hurley, Vice President of Conservation – Thinhorn Programs
As Vice President of Conservation – Thinhorn Programs for WSF, Kevin Hurley brings over 40 years of experience as a wildlife biologist, with wild sheep, particularly bighorn sheep, being a huge part of his personal and professional life for the past 38 years. Prior to joining WSF’s staff in February 2011, he spent three decades as a wildlife biologist for the State of Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD), retiring as the statewide bighorn sheep program coordinator. During his final years working for WGFD, Kevin chaired the Wild Sheep Working Group for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and has remained an active member representing WSF for the past seven+ years. During his career with WGFD, he survived two plane crashes (Dec. 1991 and Aug. 2002), both while surveying pronghorn. The resulting injuries changed his life: While not able to physically do the things he had done before, he learned to compensate with a tireless work ethic as a wildlife professional.
Dedicated to the future of wild sheep, he completed his $100,000 commitment as a WSF Marco Polo Society member (#24).Kevin has been a WSF member since 1981, became a Life Member (#794) in 1997, and a Summit Life Member (#23) in 2014. Kevin is currently a proud Life Member of 15 WSF Chapters & Affiliates. His allegiance to WSF began in his college years—using proceeds from the Wyoming Governor’s bighorn sheep licenses, FNAWS (later WSF) was the major funding source for his graduate studies at the University of Wyoming, where he studied the Trout Peak bighorn sheep herd, located between Cody and Yellowstone National Park.
In his hunting life, Kevin fired his first gun when he was 25 years old. In a bit of a twist on typical situations, Kevin was mentored by a younger buddy (and lifelong friend!) and learned how to hunt after moving to northern Idaho in 1978. He later went on to earn his FNAWS by taking a Wyoming bighorn sheep in 1997; an Alaskan Dall’s in 2011; a Yukon Stone sheep in 2012; and a southern Baja desert ram in 2014. Kevin notes that he had his only son Kyle with him on three of his four successful ram hunts. Today, Kyle is a U. Wyoming grad, top-notch mechanical engineer, accomplished archer, WSF Summit Life Member, and Life member of both the Idaho and Wyoming Chapters of WSF. Kevin accompanied Kyle on two successful hunts in fall 2017, for Dall’s sheep in the Yukon, and for mountain goat in northern British Columbia.
Keith Balfourd, Director of Marketing & Communications
Balfourd has spent the past 18 years as Director of Marketing for the Boone and Crockett Club.
“Keith has been a friend to our conservation community and WSF for many years,” said Gray N. Thornton, President and CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation. “He’s as well respected, talented and dedicated as they come. We’re thrilled to have Keith join our team.”
Balfourd has worked within the hunting, angling, and conservation arena for the past 28 years in various capacities as an outdoor communicator, marketer, publisher, television producer, instructor and guide. He currently resides in Florence, MT with his wife and two daughters.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to turn my passion for wildlife and the outdoors into my life’s work, which has taught me a lot,” Balfourd explained. “One thing I do know is that we would not have wild places, wild things, and the opportunity to hunt today if it were not for Theodore Roosevelt and the Boone and Crockett Club. It was both an honor and a privilege to be a part of this legacy, and the work the Club is doing today. The best one can hope for in this business is to be able to make a difference. I feel like I’ve been able to do that with B&C, and look forward to doing the same at Wild Sheep. Both organizations are at the forefront at what lies over the horizon for conservation.”
Clay Brewer, Conservation Director, BHS Programs Lead
Clay Brewer joined the Wild Sheep Foundation team as a Conservation Director in September 2016 after 25 years of service with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). He served in various capacities over 3 decades as a wildlife professional, including TPWD’s state-wide Bighorn Sheep Program Leader, Wild Sheep Working Group Chair (2011-2016) for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), Desert Bighorn Council Technical Staff Chair, WSF Professional Resources Advisory Board 2011-2016, and many other key leadership positions. Known for his efforts in helping restore desert bighorns to historic levels in Texas, Clay provided important strategic direction and leadership in improving landowner relations and working with multiple stakeholders to achieve common restoration and management goals.
In recognition for his work with wild sheep west-wide, he was awarded the WAFWA Professional of the year in 2016. Clay also received TPWD’s 2004 Conservation and 2010 Leadership Awards, the Texas Bighorn Society’s President’s Award in 2003, the Desert Bighorn Council Honor award in 2011 and the Wild Sheep Foundation’s Wild Sheep Biologist Wall of Fame Award in 2007.
He is a Summit Life Member and a Life Member of the Texas Bighorn Society. Clay received a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Science degree in Range and Wildlife from the Borderlands Research Institute, Sul Ross State University.
Clay and his wife Helen of 34 years raised 3 successful daughters and currently reside in Placid, Texas.
Kurt Alt, Conservation Dir., MT & Int. Sheep & Goat Programs
Kurt joined the Wild Sheep Foundation in the fall of 2015 after 32 years (35 unofficially) for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, serving as a wildlife area manager, wildlife biologist, and the Wildlife Manager for southwest Montana. He has been responsible for managing wild sheep and goat populations throughout western Montana including Montana’s unlimited bighorn sheep seasons.
During his 40+ year career, Kurt has lectured extensively in European countries on wildlife management in Montana and North America. He brings broad perspectives to the WSF mission, drawing on his career in Montana, manager-to-manager exchanges with East Africa, Argentina, Russian Far East, and Europe, as a German certified lead hunting instructor offered to US and Canadian troops stationed in Germany and as the current President of the Northwest Section of the Wildlife Society.
Kurt is a Summit Life Member and a life member of the Montana Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation. After growing up in Butte, MT, he earned his BS and MS in Fish and Wildlife Management from Montana State University. His wife is a teacher currently stationed in Germany with the US military and his son is working on a Doctorate in southern California.
Terry Ziehl, Finance Manager
Terry was born and raised in Cloquet, Minnesota, which is about 20 miles from Duluth. Her father did a little bit of hunting, but his passion was fishing and camping at Leech Lake. As a family, they used to always say, "if you wanted to go fishing with dad, you better want to stay out there for hours!" So naturally, Terry grew up fishing, which she still loves to do today.
In 1981, Terry married her high school sweetheart, Terry (yes, they have the same name). They soon moved to Casper, Wyoming so he persue a degree in the oil field. After obtaining his degree and a position with Marathon oil, the Ziehl's were transferred to Cody in 1986. Terry became familiar with FNAWS while she lived in Casper since her husband was a member. Terry started with WSF back in 1987 as a part time receptionist. "I guess you could say I really enjoy working here 30 years later!" she says.
Terry has worked almost all positions, except graphic design. She wears many hats here at WSF world headquarters but her main job is in account receivables and payables. Terry especially looks forward to the convention each year! She loves to catch up with the many friends she has made and to always make new ones!
Terry has two girls; Sami, the oldest, lives in Cody. Kimberly, the younger daughter, currently lives in Billings, Montana.
Kim Nieters, Auction & Awards Director
A proud Life member of WSF and a new <1 Club member, Kim has spent nearly 30 years working for the foundation. At the age of 20, she began her WSF career at WSF (then known as FNAWS) as membership coordinator. Ever since then, she has found the driving force behind her professional passion has always been WSF’s energetic and inspiring members. As Kim always says, “I work for them!” During her WSF tenure, she has helped manage the foundation’s membership, merchandise, raffles, awards and auctions. With the generosity of WSF’s donors/exhibitors/sponsors and members, Kim and WSF’s stellar staff have raised over $110 million to benefit wild sheep and their habitat. Working for WSF has been the best education in the world, Kim says, teaching her professionalism, values and the principles that guide her every day.
Kim began hunting just a few years ago and fell in love with bird hunting, then took her first big game animal on a 2015 antelope hunt with the help of her friend and former WSF staff member Justin Phillips. She plans on trying for another buck antelope this fall.
Kim has two beautiful daughters, Shelbie and Emma, and a grandson Zavier, her biggest fan. Kim spends her leisure time taking them camping and traveling with them on sports outings.
Paige Culver, Development Manager
Paige and her family reside in Bozeman, MT. As they enjoy all things outdoors, it only makes sense that they place conservation at the core of their value system. Being avid hunters, Paige and her husband spend many of their “dates” scouting and tracking down big game with bow or rifle in hand. She works hard to teach her two children how to be good stewards of all that they have been given and to give back when able. She has recently made it a goal to join, and ultimately be kicked out of, the <1 Club.
Paige has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Management and a minor in Corporate Communications and brings knowledge from various career experiences. Prior to joining the team at WSF, she worked as a program manager for Montana State University and also owned and managed a rodeo apparel company. Her experience owning and operating her own business gave her a wealth of experience in networking, marketing, and operations management as well as an extra helping of grit. As Development Manager, Paige looks forward to helping continue the legacy WSF has created in making great strides for the conservation of wild sheep.
Ryan Brock, PhD, Youth Education Coordinator
Serving WSF for the past 9 years as its youth education coordinator, Ryan grew up learning to love the great outdoors in southern Colorado, where he spent summers exploring the wildlife refuges where his father worked. Through various backpacking and horse-packing trips with his family when he was young, he learned about the natural world. An avid hunter, today he enjoys pursuing big game and birds.
While focusing on science education, Ryan earned a master’s in education and a Ph.D. in curriculum, teaching and learning. His dissertation was dedicated to further understanding the timeframe youth take to develop an environmental identity to the natural world while participating in after-school nature clubs.
During his tenure for WSF, he has led the Youth Wildlife Conservation Experience (YWCE) as a component of the WSF Sheep Show® in Reno. He also spearheads WSF’s nationwide Shooting, Hunting & Ethics Education Programs (S.H.E.E.P.), where Ryan conducts youth outdoor outreach for WSF Chapters and Affliliates and for other nonprofits, such as Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Both YWCE and S.H.E.E.P. offer school kids exciting exposure to shooting, archery and hands-on learning about wildlife, habitat and conservation. Attendance has grown exponentially for WSF youth events over Ryan’s tenure.
In addition to his part-time work for WSF, Ryan teaches fifth grade in Reno, Nev. Beyond his professional life, he continues to inspire his son and young daughter to cultivate curiosity and excitement about the natural world.
Maddie Pennaz, Membership Manager & <1 Clubs Manager
Maddie grew up in Minnesota, where she fostered her love for hunting and fishing at a young age. In pursuit of bigger mountains and more hunting and fishing opportunities, Maddie moved to Bozeman in 2017.
She received a Bachelor of Science in Business from Montana State University in May 2019. Although, she admits she probably spent more time on the river and in the mountains than in class.
She is no stranger to the foundation, as she was a member of the Student Chapter of WSF at Montana State University and began as Registration Coordinator and Store Manager after graduation in 2019. She has now transitioned into the Membership Manager and <1 Clubs Manager role.
Maddie’s passions for hunting and fishing have taken her throughout North America and Africa, but her ultimate dream is to be “kicked-out!” of the <1 Club!
Megan Costanza, Banquets & Events Manager
Megan grew up north of Orlando, FL where much of her childhood was either spent at the beach or camping. She moved to Reno, NV in high school where her love of being outdoors and exploring all the lakes and hiking trails that Northern Nevada has to offer grew.
A graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, Megan recently joined WSF after working at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino the past 14 years as a Convention Services Manager. There she helped WSF with their convention on the hotel side.
Outisde of work you will see her attending either her daughter’s cheer competitions, son’s baseball games or just doing anything mom does.
Mike Aiazzi, Expo & Exhibits Manager
Mike grew up in Elko Nevada where he was involved in sports and 4H. He developed a love of the outdoors by exploring the Great Basin and hunting with his family. Mike learned about habitat, conservation, and soils from his stepfather Paul Blackburn (a soil scientist), or as Mike calls him, Dad. Mike moved to Reno to attend the University of Nevada. While working and attending college, Mike became involved with numerous conservation organizations. His involvement with these organizations through projects, community outreach and fundraising lead to his recruitment into the outdoor industry by Cabela’s. Mike worked for Cabela’s and then Bass Pro in the Reno location for 14 years, where he was awarded the Cabela’s Community Champion Award for his work with the outdoor community.
Mike and his wife Brandi have two boys that they share their knowledge and love for the outdoors with. Spending time with family and outdoors is Mike’s favorite way to spend time. Whether it is hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, exploring, or spending time at his wife’s family’s ranch; they usually do it as a family.
Mike continues to volunteer with conservation organizations and community groups in his free time. Mike serves as a board member of Nevada Outdoorsmen in Wheelchairs where he coordinates and runs (with some amazing other volunteers) the antelope hunts for wheelchair bound hunters. As a longtime WSF exhibitor with his work and volunteer organizations, Mike is excited to work with our exhibitors to continue to build and grow on our convention. Mike joined the Wild Sheep Foundation staff in October 2021.
Greg Schildwachter, Lobbyist
Greg Schildwachter is a professional conservationist advising clients on policy, leadership and strategy, and philanthropy in conservation. He works with highly-committed individuals and organizations to achieve breakthroughs on issues in wildlife, land, and water.
In a 30-year career, Greg has focused on game and other wildlife including bighorn sheep, wolves, salmon, and several endangered species. He has worked in many topic areas, including hunting heritage, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and ocean fisheries. His experience is local, statewide, and federal – and spans many communities and habitats in the U.S. Greg began his career as a wildlife biologist.
Before starting Watershed Results, Greg worked at the White House Council on Environmental Quality advising President George W. Bush on public lands, wildlife, and agriculture issues. Previously, Greg served Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho as Special Assistant and Staff Director for the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water. Before that, he was Policy Advisor in Idaho Governor Kempthorne’s Office of Species Conservation. He also managed the Wildlife Program of the Intermountain Forest Association in Montana and Idaho.
In his career as a biologist, Greg earned a PhD in the Boone and Crockett research program at the University of Montana, completed a fellowship at the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana; and, worked at the Ocelot Recovery Program at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville, Texas, among many other field assignments.