Pop quiz – tell me what flaming nature lover is responsible for the following quote and actions:
1) “To lose the chance to see frigatebirds soaring in circles above the storm or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad of terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach – why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.”
2) Sent a U.S. Navy gunboat to protect fur seals from sealers on a remote island in the Bering Sea, the U.S. Marines to protect nesting shorebirds on an equally remote Pacific atoll.
3) Added three national parks, and expanded Yosemite.
4) Consolidated management of federal lands and set aside 148 million acres in 66 national forests across the country.
5) Created the country’s national wildlife refuge system, of which the first reserve was for pelicans.
I KNEW THAT Teddy Roosevelt was a big-time big-game hunter, of course, and remembered he had something to do with the Antiquities Act and national monuments, but I read with surprise his thoughts and other contributions to wildlife protection.
They’re detailed in Don Thomas’s excellent new book, How Sportsmen Saved the World, The Unsung Conservation Efforts of Hunters and Anglers, part of which is excerpted in our January issue.
Thomas is a Montana/Alaska author who was written over a dozen other outdoor books, and pens articles for Gray’s Sporting Journal, Ducks Unlimited, Traditional Bowhunter and other mags.
Sportsmen, a concise 230-page read published in mid-November by Lyons Press, outlines the efforts of Roosevelt and other late 19th and early 20th century hunters, writers and legislators such as Aldo Leopold, George Bird Grinnell and John Fletcher Lacey who worked to shield America’s flocks and herds from rapacious destruction at the hands of market/commercial hunters, industrialization and western expansion, and to save habitat for all species at a time when few cared for wild things or ecosystems.
And yet today, you might never guess that people like you and I – through more than a century of ceaseless hellraising, organizing, fundraising, badgering, legislation and volunteer work – have done more than any other group to preserve this country’s and continent’s animal life and given it room to prosper.
No, you’d think our wildernesses, waters and wildlife magically sprung out of the ’60s or something – and that we’re the bad guys!
But, as Thomas writes, “When it comes to public policy, the record clearly shows who has actually stood up for wildlife in the past, and who continues to do so today.”
THOMAS’S BOOK DOESN’T GET into maudlin moralizing about why we hunt, or bother with tracing our heritage back to caveman days.
It’s Cliffs Notes for those of us who know part though not all of the story of how some of America’s wildlife was killed off in the 1800s but many other species were brought back from the brink.
Thomas writes pretty objectively, indeed noting we hunters sometimes have needed correction in our path. His thesis is “When wildlife advocates work together, wildlife wins; when they bicker, wildlife loses.”
But the book is also an inconvenient truth for anti-hunters, providing facts for when your mother-in-law or greenie cousin gives you guff on hunting.
Oh yeah? Well, tell me, Gretchen, how much bird, butterfly and bear habitat has PETA helped conserve? And who, again, remains at the forefront of managing America’s wildlife scientifically instead of emotionally?
That said, though Thomas does not dismiss the threat from anti-hunters, he writes that their “movement does not belong at the top of the list of threats.”
The real dangers are loss of habitat and places for new hunters to go afield, low recruitment of sportsmen, and a lack of understanding about hunting by the vast majority of the American people – thus the book.
“In the battle for the hearts and minds of the 80 percent of the public who remain uncommitted toward hunting, the best counter is a rational explanation of sportsmen’s true accomplishments on behalf of wildlife,” Thomas writes in the afterword.
His outline of our works makes me pretty goddamned proud to say I am a hunter, I am the nation’s – if not the world’s – true original conservationist, true nature lover.
Knowing this history, and the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (it’s in the book), strengthens our cause. Pick it up as a gift to yourself for Christmas, or put reading it on your list of New Year’s resolutions.