New Poll: Two-Thirds of Gulf Coast Voters Want RESTORE to Fund Habitat Restoration

A new poll completed by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and The Nature Conservancy shows that Gulf Coast voters remain very concerned about the impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and overwhelmingly support using the fines resulting from the oil spill on Gulf restoration and conservation projects. More than three in five voters (61 percent) say that the “after-effects of the BP oil spill on natural areas and wildlife along the Gulf Coast” are an “extremely” or “very serious” problem for the region. That figure is up from 57 percent in 2013 and ranks among the top concerns of the region: the economy (67 percent), education (66 percent), and crime (62 percent).

“This poll reveals continued strong concern by the people of the Gulf region for the health of the Gulf of Mexico and the strong belief by a broad cross-section of the population that funds from the recently announced settlement with BP should be invested in restoring and conserving the natural features that make the Gulf such a beautiful, biologically rich, and productive place,” said Robert Bendick, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Program.

Image courtesy of Louisiana GOHSEP.

Nearly seven in ten (68 percent) voters said RESTORE Act funds “should be used mainly for restoration of our beaches, wildlife habitat, coastal areas, rivers and other waters that affect the Gulf Coast.” Just 17 percent preferred that funds “be used mainly for construction of roads, convention centers, school buildings, and other projects on the Gulf Coast.” Republicans (68 percent) were even more likely than Democrats (58 percent) to prioritize restoration projects over construction. More than a third of the residents polled said that they’ve purchased a license to hunt or fish in the last three years, and these sportsmen were also more likely to back conservation projects.

“The economy and culture of the Gulf Coast are absolutely dependent upon access to high-quality fishing and other recreational activities,” said Whit Fosburgh, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s president and CEO. “Gulf residents recognize the significance of this opportunity to repair the direct damage from the oil spill, as well as long-term threats to the quality of the entire ecosystem, using fines from the 2010 disaster. Investing in the Gulf’s fisheries, wildlife, beaches, and waters is not choosing between the ecosystem and the economy. The ecosystem is the economy.”

The bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R) partnered to complete this survey of registered voters along the Gulf Coast. The results show little change from a similar survey completed in 2013, illustrating that voters place a lasting value on the health of the Gulf as contributing to the region’s economy and culture.

The poll will be presented in detail today at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s annual Saltwater Media Summit, a gathering of journalists to discuss the most timely conservation policy issues impacting saltwater fishing. This year, the event takes place at ICAST, the world’s largest sportfishing trade show, where TRCP has invited science and policy experts to discuss red snapper management and harvest collection, reauthorization of the country’s major fisheries conservation law, and priority projects for Gulf Coast habitat restoration in the wake of an $18.7-billion settlement from BP. Notable speakers include Dr. Roy Crabtree of NOAA Fisheries and representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, American Sportfishing Association, Center for Coastal Conservation, and Coastal Conservation Association.

Sportsmen are in on the conversation about drought planning

Today, the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) will bring stakeholders together at the U.S. Department of the Interior for the White House Drought Symposium, made possible with the support of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). Nearly 40 diverse stakeholder groups will be represented to discuss the federal government’s role in building drought resilience into our water management systems and the steps that federal agencies should take to forestall future drought crises. Sportsmen hope the event will result in concrete steps that the federal government can take on drought planning and 21st century approaches to water conservation that will benefit fish, wildlife, and all Americans.

“The ongoing drought crisis creates a unique opportunity to change our water management systems so they are more resilient against future threats,” said Jimmy Hague, the TRCP’s Center for Water Resources director. “The groups gathered at the symposium have a track record of implementing innovative and effective projects on the ground to improve water resources and preserve working lands, and I’m confident that our input will set the stage for federal actions for years to come.”

Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

Sportsmen will urge the administration to advance widely-supported conservation and water-efficiency measures to meet water demands while protecting and restoring the healthy river flows that ensure access to quality fish habitat. Hunting and angling stakeholders will also call for a renewed commitment and creative approaches to conservation funding.

“As brutal drought conditions continue throughout the West, cooperation among agricultural producers, conservation interests, and municipal users is essential,” said Laura Ziemer, Trout Unlimited’s senior counsel and water policy advisor. “We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the symposium and provide recommendations based on our work with farmers and ranchers in California, the Klamath Basin, the Yakima River Basin, and the Colorado River Basin to improve irrigation systems in a way that provides drought resilience for water supplies and fisheries.”

“The Nature Conservancy supports a proactive approach to achieve healthy ecosystems and related economies in the face of drought,” said Doug Robotham, water policy director for The Nature Conservancy. “We are working with these partners to find common ground and new ways to be more efficient and effective with the water we have and ensure that we will have the water we need for years to come. California’s severe drought or that which has affected the Colorado River Basin for the last 15 years, and which may be the worst in the last 1,200 years, demand flexible and innovative approaches to meeting the fresh water needs of cities, farms, and wildlife. We are all in this together.”

Other TRCP partners in attendance will include the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. For examples of the good work these groups are doing on water projects in local communities, see our Snapshots of Success report.

What you need to know before our 5th Annual Saltwater Media Summit

We’re kicking off our fifth annual Saltwater Media Summit this week at ICAST, the world’s largest sportfishing trade show. We’re bringing together lawmakers, thought leaders, and journalists to discuss today’s most pressing saltwater angling issues.

Want some more background on the issues that we’ll be tackling? We’ve got you covered.

Check out some of these resources on red snapper management, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and Gulf Coast restoration.

Panel I: Making Red Snapper Numbers Add Up

Image by Jessica McGlothlin.

Panel II: Can Revamped Fisheries Law Make Washington Work for Recreational  Anglers?

Panel III: What a Few Billion Dollars Could Buy in Gulf Coast Restoration Projects

Want to learn more about our Saltwater Media Summit? Check out our preview here and check back in for daily recaps, photos from the show floor, and much more!


Talking dollars and cents at our fifth annual Saltwater Media Summit

How do you measure a quality day on the water? By total fish caught? By your biggest catch? By how many hours were spent alongside friends and family?

What about in dollars and cents?

You may not realize the dramatic impact your recreational fishing dollars have on the U.S. economy—each year, the dollars you spend on fishing boats, guides, and gear generates $115 billion in economic activity. Saltwater anglers account for $70 billion of that. This money goes to support conservation and great public access to fishing and creates thousands of jobs that support coastal communities all across the country.

Image by Dusan Smetana.

That’s why we chose to host our fifth annual Saltwater Media Summit at ICAST, the world’s largest fishing trade show, where media and business leaders can experience the full economic might of the recreational fishing industry. We’re gathering science and policy experts in Orlando, Florida, to show members of the media that important saltwater conservation issues—like red snapper management, reauthorization of the country’s major marine fisheries law, and Gulf Coast restoration—are impacting our local economies just as much as our access to quality fishing.

Want to know how $18.7 billion dollars in restoration dollars will be spent? Are you and your readers frustrated with short recreational seasons for Gulf red snapper? Do you wonder what Washington lawmakers could be doing to protect your saltwater fishing access? Our experts will discuss all that and more. We’ll be providing updates throughout the week, so follow the #TRCPSummit hashtag on Twitter, or stay tuned to Facebook and the blog for more information. To find us at ICAST, contact Kristyn Brady via email.

We wouldn’t be able to break big conservation stories at ICAST without the help of our generous sponsors. We’d like to thank Bass Pro Shops, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Fisheries, Costa, Patagonia, Pure Fishing, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Yamaha, the American Sportfishing Association, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Check out a full listing of our sponsors right here.

Glassing the Hill: July 13-17

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Both the House and the Senate will be in session this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Last week in the House, the Fiscal 2016 Interior Appropriations bill was yanked from the floor after debate over the Confederate flag became rancorous. It is not clear when (or if) the bill will come back to the House floor, with just six legislative weeks until the end of fiscal year 2015.  The House also easily cleared H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2015, last week in a 262-167 vote. The path forward for forestry legislation in the Senate is still unclear, although several hearings will occur this week in that chamber.  Both the House and the Senate have now named their respective members of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference committee, which is expected to complete its work prior to the August recess. The House version of the NDAA includes harmful sage grouse language, and President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.

On the Floor
This week, the Senate is expected to complete consideration of legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (S.1177), which appears likely to consume the balance of the week’s proceedings on the floor.

This week on the House floor, discussion with center around a California drought billHR 2898, authored by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA). There is no other major legislation on the House floor, but according to Majority Leader McCarthy, other items are possible.

The Week in Full:

Wednesday, July 15

Thursday, July 16

Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: The Arizona Strip

In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds.

This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.

In Part Three of our series, we head to a little known region of Northern Arizona.

The Arizona Strip has been called the best place on the planet to hunt mule deer, and with more than 2 million acres of Bureau of Land Management public lands and 4,000-plus miles of roads to access hunting and fishing areas, it is a sportsmen’s dream country.

Image courtesy of BLM.

Most of the 5 million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon, which lies just to the south, have no idea that just beyond the mighty Colorado River is located another, even wilder universe of slot canyons, sagebrush plains, lost rivers and Ponderosa pineclad mountains. The rugged Grand Canyon cuts off the Strip and makes this some of the most remote country in the Southwest, where bighorn sheep clatter in the scree, bison wander and turkeys thunder in high elevation aspen groves that seem utterly removed from the deserts below. It’s the Kaibab Plateau and the Vermillion Cliffs, the Poverty Mountains, the Parashant, all names that conjure up monster bucks in desert solitude.

Image courtesy of BLM.

You’ll need your extra water and your best boots, because the Strip is a sprawling place where the deer densities are low (population estimates are around 2,000 animals most years) but you’ll find some of the largest bucks on earth. As you hunt, you’ll see the same country traversed by the pioneers who launched from Fort Smith, Arkansas, bound for the Colorado River and westward on the Beale Wagon Road. At Laws Spring you can study the pictographs left by hunters like yourself hundreds and thousands of years ago. The most unique fact about this country, other than the fact that it is ours for the roaming, is that you will see it much as those long-ago hunters saw it.

In 2012, Arizona passed Senate Bill 1332, demanding the transfer of all federal lands to the state and giving the state the right to sell them to promote development. Arizona Proposition 120, a ballot measure defeated by two-thirds of Arizona voters, would have amended the state’s constitution to “declare Arizona’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife, and other natural resources within the state’s boundaries.” What the legislature proposed is a fundamental and radical remaking of Arizona, with no regard for the quality of life or natural resource protection that the public lands have provided for more than a century. It is hard to imagine the price that would be paid for the Arizona Strip, but the outcome would be clear: a state where access to the best hunting and other recreation is reserved for those wealthy enough to buy what once belonged to all of us.

Image courtesy of BLM.

While sportsmen were successful in defeating the vast majority of land transfer bills across the nation during the 2015 legislative season, Arizona proved to be difficult territory and two problematic measures were passed. One bill was a resolution, urging the United States Congress and the Dept. of the Interior to hand over public lands directly to the state. The other bill established a study committee “to examine processes to transfer, manage and dispose of federal lands within Arizona.” A third bill, vetoed by the Arizona Governor, would have entered the state into a compact designed to aggressively seek control of public lands from the federal government. All of these bills threaten public access to public lands because the state of Arizona, if successful, simply could not afford to retain and responsibly manage these lands and would likely find it necessary to sell them to private interests. Looking forward, hunters and anglers will be engaged with the Arizona study committee process to show lawmakers and the public that land transfer is a losing proposition. Sportsmen are also planning to step up our Arizona involvement in 2016 to prevent radicals from advancing additional measures that would threaten our public lands hunting and fishing traditions.

Here are three ways you can support sportsmen’s access on public lands. 

Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.

Glassing The Hill: July 6 – 10

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Both the House and the Senate will be in session this week, the first of four legislative weeks before the August recess and eight weeks from the end of fiscal year 2015.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

This Month at a Glance
July is expected to see consideration of a Highway Bill solution (the highway trust fund expires July 31); there is also some appetite to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank’s charter, which expired on July 1. The Senate could also soon see action on a nuclear deal with Iran, and both chambers will begin conference proceedings on the Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.

On the Floor
This week, the Senate will be considering reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (S.1177).

Conservation Funding Alert: This week, the House will resume consideration of the Fiscal Year 2016 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 2822) on the floor, and is expected to vote on a variety of amendments throughout the week. You can review all the amendments currently filed here.

The Week in Full:

Tuesday, July 7

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to examine S.1694, which would authorize phase III of a project to improve water management in the Yakima River basin.

Wednesday, July 8

House Committee on Agriculture hearing on energy and the rural economy: the economic impact of exporting crude oil.

Full House Appropriations Committee Markup of Fiscal Year 2016 agriculture spending bill .

Full House Natural Resources Committee Markup – A list of bills will be posted once available.

Thursday, July 9

Full House Natural Resources Committee Markup, continued from Wednesday.

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing on examining the EPA’s regulatory overreach.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing on HR 702, legislation to prohibit restrictions on the export of crude oil.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing to examine mitigation requirements, interagency coordination, and pilot projects related to economic development on Federal public lands.

Angling Community Knows Just What to Do with $18.7B Oil Spill Settlement

Leaders of the Gulf of Mexico’s recreational fishing community reaffirmed their commitment to improving the region’s fisheries and access opportunities following the announcement of an $18.7-billion settlement between BP, the five Gulf States, and the federal government for environmental damages and lost revenues resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. According to details released today, BP will pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, and at least $5 billion to Louisiana alone, for injuries determined through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Funds will be paid over 16 years. BP will also commit $232 million to any future damage.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its sportfishing partners—the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, and Center for Coastal Conservation—have been working closely with the Gulf’s angling community, state and federal agencies, researchers, and conservation groups since 2010 to identify and advance projects and initiatives to sustain and improve fisheries using oil spill recovery funds.

Image courtesy of Louisiana’s GOHSEP.

“Exactly five years ago, oil was still spilling into the Gulf, closing and limiting recreational fishing and making the future of Gulf fisheries uncertain,” says TRCP Center for Marine Fisheries Director Chris Macaluso. “This settlement gives us a clearer picture of what the future of Gulf fishing will look like, by allowing state and federal agencies and research institutions an immediate timeline and definitive budget for selecting the projects and initiatives that will protect and restore damaged ecosystems. It is critical that we get to work restoring, protecting, and improving habitat now, rather than after a decade or more of litigation.”

“Louisiana is losing critical fish habitat on a daily basis, and it’s very important that projects to restore our coast and curb land loss move forward to the design and construction phase as quickly as possible,” says CCA Louisiana Executive Director David Cresson. “Our organization remains committed to representing the saltwater fishermen of our state in ensuring that barrier islands, reefs, marshes, science centers, and fisheries management are at the top of the lists of projects built with these unprecedented conservation funds.”

In 2013, TRCP and its partners released the report “Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries: Recommendations for Restoration, Recovery and Sustainability,” which broadly identified steps to improve habitat, fisheries science, data collection, and boost angler confidence that damages would be repaired. We followed up that report with a list of 25 specific Gulf-area projects that would help accomplish these broad goals, including barrier island restoration efforts in Louisiana and Alabama, Gulf-wide fish tagging and catch-and-release mortality reduction programs, water quality improvement efforts in Florida and Texas, and the restoration of oyster reefs throughout the Gulf. These projects remain a priority today.

Image courtesy of Patrick Quigley.

“Saltwater recreational fishing is enjoyed by more than 3.5 million Gulf residents, and many more who visit the area each year,” says Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Wise investment of this settlement will give anglers in the region a chance to have better management of our fisheries, better places to fish, and better access to wonderful fishing opportunities. Gulf anglers remain committed to working with state and federal officials to ensure fisheries conservation is given top priority.”

“Recreational fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than $10 billion in annual contributions to the region’s economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs,” says Mike Leonard, American Sportfishing Association’s ocean resource policy director. “This economic activity came to a grinding halt in the spring and summer of 2010 due to the oil spill, and it can only be sustained or increased by building better fisheries science and management and better habitats that attract fishermen. This settlement allows us to make commitments to improve the Gulf’s fisheries for generations to come.”

Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: Part Two

In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds.

This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.

In Part Two of our series, we head to the Land of Enchantment to look at the Bootheel of New Mexico.

It is often said that living well is the best revenge. For a hunter, that could mean stalking a high-desert Coues deer buck in short sleeves, while your friends shiver in rain and snow far away to the north.

The Bootheel of far southwestern New Mexico is the answer to a lot of hunters’ winter prayers. Sprawling and mostly uninhabited, the Bootheel is almost one-third public lands, giving hunters room to roam on 488,320 acres managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. It’s a cholla and chaparral world, dry and bony until you get into some rainier and snowier altitudes in the mountains. The Peloncillos, Animas, and Guadalupes are the major ranges, towering from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. The high country encompasses an ecoregion called the Madrean forest, a mixture of piñon pine, junipers, and five different species of oak. There are wild places here, remote and requiring the utmost self-sufficiency, in the Big Hatchet Mountains and the Peloncillos.

Image courtesy of Garrett VaneKlesen.

The star of this country is the elusive little Coues deer, but there are plenty of other opportunities to spend long days afield. You can hunt three species of quail in one day, starting out in the lower country with Gambel’s and scaled quail and climbing the mountain flanks for the close-holding Mearn’s quail. There are javelinas, mule deer, rare desert bighorns, and a recovered population of Gould’s turkeys – the largest of all the wild turkey subspecies.

These experiences are made possible by public access to federal lands, but some New Mexicans, like so many Westerners, have a deep rooted distrust of the federal government. This distrust has been used by some politicians, who care little for the state’s hunting and outdoor heritage, to push for New Mexico’s federal public lands to be transferred to state control. But transferring the lands is not a viable solution to the conflicts over federal management, because the burdens of management far outweigh any benefits that would come to most residents. The financial burden, in particular, would include firefighting costs on federal lands, which exceeded $240 million in New Mexico in 2012 alone.

Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who opposes state takeover of federal public lands, told reporters, “The states would have no choice but to auction off the best public lands to cover costs. That would devastate our outdoor traditions like hunting and fishing as well as the 68,000 jobs associated without door recreation in New Mexico. These lands belong to all of us, and it is imperative that we keep it that way.”

Three bills were introduced during the 2015 New Mexico state legislative session that promoted the transfer of federal public lands to the state. More than 250 hunters and anglers rallied at the capitol to make a statement against this legislation, and local sportsmen’s groups worked with state legislators to put a stop to these misguided proposals. In the end, a bipartisan group of lawmakers helped to defeat these bills.

Sportsmen should be proud of this successful effort to stop public-land seizure bills in New Mexico, and we all must remain vigilant to prevent future proposals from gaining traction in the Land of Enchantment.

Here are three ways you can support sportsmen’s access on public lands. 

Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.


The Teddy Bear Delisting and ‘That Hunt’

You may know the tale of Theodore Roosevelt’s Mississippi black bear hunt in the fall of 1902, his second year in office. After all, it’s one of the most famous hunts to have taken place on American soil, and it inspired the most famous toy in the world – the Teddy Bear.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

But shortly after Roosevelt came to Mississippi in the early 1900s, over-hunting and agricultural development in the Delta’s swamps practically eliminated the Louisiana black bear from its native range in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. It was eventually listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1992, bringing about much concern from landowners, the timber industry, and wildlife professionals. This forward-thinking group hoped that the downward trend could be reversed and suitable black bear habitat within the region could be restored.

That same year, the Wetlands Reserve Program was instituted, building upon the successes of the Conservation Reserve Program, launched in 1985. Together, these programs resulted in the restoration of more than one million acres of black bear habitat, and black bear populations slowly began to rise across the bear’s historic range.

Now, Teddy’s bear is having a moment. After more than two decades of conservation efforts, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has proposed removing the Louisiana black bear from the list of threatened and endangered species under the ESA. “The Louisiana black bear symbolizes how the Endangered Species Act can be a remarkably effective tool to protect and recover threatened and endangered species when we work in close partnership with states and other stakeholders,” Jewell said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, state agencies, non-profit organizations, and private landowners are all to thank for the Louisiana black bear’s success.

Image courtesy of USFWS.

According to Hunter Fordice, a landowner and son of Mississippi’s former governor, Kirk Fordice, “The first documented black bear cubs born in the Mississippi Delta in some 30 years were born in the middle of a 12-year-old Wetlands Reserve Program tract on my property in Issaquena County in 2007. The Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program have restored hundreds of thousands of acres of bottomland hardwoods across the Lower Mississippi Valley, which in turn has provided habitat suitable for the Louisiana black bear to once again thrive in its historical home range. As a landowner, it is very gratifying to see these conservation programs working so well.”

We think Roosevelt would be proud to see the population’s rebound and to know that the next generation of outdoorsmen will share the woods with the bear that “bears” his nickname. To celebrate, let’s hear the story of this famous hunt.

A Famous Hunt and Hunter

Almost every aspect of Roosevelt’s 1902 hunt at Smede’s farm was the responsibility of the uneducated, but extremely intelligent, 56-year-old Holt Collier, who was born into slavery and served as a Confederate scout before becoming a legend for his hunting skills. Roosevelt (who announced that he was to be addressed only as “Colonel” throughout the hunt) expressed his desire to participate in the chase. However his demands for a shot on the very first day, and the timidity of his hosts, condemned him to a stationary blind. He was placed to have a clear shot when the bear, driven by Collier’s pack of nearly 40 dogs, would emerge from one of the dense cane thickets on the farm.

Roosevelt and his hunting partner, Huger Foote, waited on the stand all morning. Around mid-afternoon they broke for lunch, annoying Collier, who’d worked extremely hard to bring a bear to that exact spot only to find the stand abandoned.  As Collier recalled,

“That was eight o’clock in the mornin’ when I hit the woods an’ roused my bear where I knowed I’d fin him. Den me an’ dat bear had a time, fightin’ an’ chargin’ an’ tryin’ to make him take a tree. Big ole bear but he wouldn’t climb nary tree. I could have killed him a thousand times… I sweated myself to death in that canebrake. So did the bear. By keeping between the bear and the river, I knew he’d sholy make for the water hole where I left the Cunnel [sic]. After a while the bear started that way and popped out of the gap where I said he’d go. But I didn’t hear a shot, and that pestered me… It sholy pervoked me because I’d promised the President to bring him a bear to that log, and there he was.”

-Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear by Minor Ferris Buchanan 

It was at this time that the bear turned on the dogs. This put Collier in quite the quandary. He had been given specific orders to save the bear for Roosevelt, who was not to be found, and yet he had to protect the dogs from the deadly bear.

Image courtesy of Dale Divers.

Collier dismounted, shouting at the bear. He approached the bear and tried to distract it as someone rode to camp to get the President. In the meantime, the bear and the dogs fought viciously, and at one point his prize dog was caught in the bear’s grip. Collier swung the stock of his gun and landed a blow to the base of the bear’s skull. Stunned, the bear dropped the dog and Collier seized the opportunity to place a lariat around the bear’s neck so that, when Roosevelt and Foote arrived several minutes later, the animal was tied to a tree.

President Roosevelt refused to claim the bear, citing a “true sportsmen’s code” which holds that the taking of any animal that does not have a sporting chance is forbidden. This famous hunting event inspired the first widespread discussion of the modern code of “fair chase,” a tenet of the Boone and Crockett Club which Roosevelt founded. It is the oldest conservation organization in North America and the second oldest in the world.

Although Roosevelt did not count the hunt as “successful,” the press thought it a most delightful story and spread word of it across the country. Roosevelt’s refusal to kill a defenseless animal was far more newsworthy than the taking of a trophy bear, and as the news spread, Brooklyn toy store owners Rose and Morris Michtom wrote to ask his permission to name their stuffed toy bears after him. The President approved, and “Teddy’s Bears” were born.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a Regular Member of the Boone and Crockett Club, and a member of the TRCP Policy Council.