We all have heroes or heroines, and can point to something they did or said that was influential in making us think a bit differently.
Your hero or heroine may be a pioneering conservationist like George Perkins Marsh, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Olaus Murie, O. C. Wallmo, Rachel Carson, or Aldo Leopold, a man ahead of his time. Or perhaps it was a teacher, friend, colleague, or family member who did or said something to you that caused you to think differently about wildlife and our wildlife heritage. Just a simple statement or action by someone you respected could have been the cause of a major shift in your philosophy and subsequent actions.
Albert Einstein became interested in science when he was only five years old after his father showed him a pocket compass. The story goes that from that simple gift, Einstein saw that there were things deeply hidden that needed to be uncovered. Then there was the child named Theodore. He was inspired by all living things but became hooked on the natural world after he did his first necropsy on a seal given to him by a dock worker. That boy went on to become the 26th President of the United States and the leader of the nation’s first conservation movement.
The profession of wildlifers is young — 2012 is only our 75th anniversary — yet there is a lot to celebrate. This includes the formation of The Wildlife Society, the establishment of funding and laws to protect wildlife and habitat, the development and enhancement of wildlife education at all levels, greater dispersal of scientific information, an expanding network of stakeholders, greater interest in international collaboration on conservation, a growing focus on mitigating anthropogenic influences on wildlife, and a host of other encouraging trends.
None of this happened accidently. George Perkins Marsh was one of the first conservationists, and the first to raise concerns about the destructive impact of human activities on our environment, and that message has been repeated often over the years. When I sat in the classroom as an undergraduate at The Ohio State University, I was told that wildlife management was about people management. I have since spread the same gospel.
Wildlife would do fine if they were free from human influences. Yet humanity is still absorbed with materialistic values that lead us to consume our natural capital at an unsustainable rate. We are therefore still struggling with habitat fragmentation and habitat deterioration, despite the warnings. What will it take for us to realize that the more humans increase, more habitats will be lost, and the landscapes for wildlife will further decline? And what can we do to stop that decline?
Efforts to turn the tide are numerous, but I point to a few contemporary programs that can be used as models to follow. One is the Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan in southern Arizona, which puts wildlife habitat and conservation in the forefront of large-scale metropolitan planning. This plan is in its second decade and has been instrumental in protecting valuable wildlife habitat.
Other plans are the Migratory Bird Habitats Initiative of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which successfully developed nearly half of the required forage for waterfowl in parts of Louisiana that were destroyed by the events of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. Still another is the Sage-grouse Initiative in the western U. S. administered by the NRCS. These programs and others incorporate numerous stakeholders, agencies, and wildlifers without regard to affiliation to deliver a product — better habitat and security for wildlife.
The Sage-grouse Initiative, for example, is “branded” for sage-grouse, but it transcends the goal of protecting one bird. Instead, it embodies a commitment to maintain rural ways of life and world-class wildlife populations in the West. At the heart of such programs is the desire to bring the lay public and all other stakeholders into the process of managing wildlife. As Leopold wrote in one of his essays, “Our profession began with the job of producing something to shoot. However important this may seem to us, it is not very important to the emancipated moderns who no longer feel soil between their toes.
“We find that we cannot produce much to shoot until the landowner changes his ways of using land, and he in turn cannot change his ways until his teachers, bankers, customers, editors, governors, and trespassers change their ideas about what land is for. To change ideas about what land is for is to change ideas about what anything is for.”
As wildlifers, we each play a pivotal role in helping to change minds for the good of wildlife. As I have lectured and traveled around the country over the past year as your President, I have seen and met many heroes and heroines working toward that goal — wildlifers down in the trenches, afield, in offices, in the Capitol and on the Hill, in classrooms, and elsewhere doing good things for wildlife.
Keep up the good work. You are all wildlife heroes and heroines in my book, and the legacy you leave behind will sustain a future that includes wildlife and all it stands for.