White-tail deer are very canny, and know perfectly well what threatens danger and what does not. … We were reluctant to molest them, but one day, having performed our usual weekly or fortnightly feat of eating up about everything there was in the house, it was determined that two deer (for it was late in autumn and they were then well grown) should be sacrificed. Accordingly one of us sallied out, but found that the sacrifice was not to be consummated so easily, for the should-be victims appeared to distinguish perfectly well between a mere passer-by, whom they regarded with absolute indifference, and anyone who harbored sinister designs. They kept such a sharp look-out, and made off so rapidly if any one tried to approach them, that on two evenings the appointed hunter returned empty-handed, and by the third someone else had brought in a couple of black-tail. After that no necessity arose for molesting the two “tame deer,” for whose sound common-sense we had all acquired a greatly increased respect.
– Excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt on Hunting
When I was 12 years old I would go hunting with my parents in Superior National Forest outside of Duluth, Minn. We didn’t own a tent or a car, so in early fall we would have someone drop us off in the middle of nowhere where we would build a lean-to and grouse hunt. After a week they’d come back to pick us up. Memories of crisp, clear mornings, breaking ice on the creek to get water and long days of hunting endless tote-roads with my mutt of a dog stick in my mind to this day.
Q: What led you to your career in conservation?
In 1987 I came to Pheasants Forever as its first director of finance. At that time I felt I would be here for several years and then move on. Everyone at PF – from the employees to the volunteers – had such a passion for wildlife, conservation and our hunting heritage that I started to believe in their mission. My vision shifted, and my work stopped being work and became my passion.
Q: The USDA recently opened up the Conservation Reserve Program for more acreage. What does this mean for sportsmen?
Like baseball and hotdogs, the Conservation Reserve Program and wildlife habitat go hand-in-hand. The CRP has been the nation’s most important program for hunters and habitat since its creation in 1985. The CRP produced record bird numbers earlier this decade, but the last few years have been tough. We’ve lost millions of CRP acres through expiring contracts, and the bird numbers have declined as a result. Thankfully, we just had our first CRP general signup since 2006, and the USDA has verbally committed to keeping the program at its 32-million-acre cap. That’s great news for hunters, pheasants, quail, deer, trout, turkeys, ducks, walleyes, prairie grouse and most non-game wildlife. Beyond habitat conservation, CRP is the country’s single-best program for cleaning our waters, protecting our soils and mitigating the impact of floods.
Q: What do you think are the most important conservation issues facing sportsmen today?
As our society continues to urbanize, new hunters and anglers lose access to land and the opportunity to enjoy a day afield. Each generation becomes more disconnected from the land. Without this connection, our society increasingly loses the value for wild places, wildlife and our hunting heritage.
Q: Why are sportsmen important players in the future of conservation?
Four decades ago, Aldo Leopold wrote about society’s disconnection from the land. Hunters and anglers understand the value of our land, and we as sportsmen have been, and always will be, the leaders in America’s conservation world.