(Author’s preface: Nothing in this column is in any way meant to diminish the challenges faced by the permanently disabled or to suggest that the personal situation I describe is in any way comparable.)
It’s been said that no one truly appreciates what they have until they lose it. Unfortunately, recent personal experience has proven the truth of that statement.
Beginning last August and, as the weathermen say, “increasing in coverage and intensity,” I’ve been dealing with severe pain in my left leg. By the time the November firearms deer season was set to open, I was using a walker part of the time. Obviously, any one with common sense wouldn’t even consider going deer hunting. As regular readers know all too well, I’m a member of that subset of the human race who can easily ignore common sense, so I was out parts of four days.
Three of those days I was lucky enough to not see a shootable deer, but on the fourth, I encountered a nice 8-point buck that begged me to shoot him. Adrenaline took care of field dressing and loading him into a trailer, but by the time I had him skinned and hung in my garage, I’d learned it actually is possible to bear “unbearable” pain — but only once if I can help it.
While I’ve been sidelined, I’ve spent some of my extra spare time reading magazines and other mail sent by a number of organizations, all of which claim that one of their primary goals is to promote wildlife conservation.
I sold my first magazine article early in 1983. As of this writing, magazines have published almost 3,000 of my full-length magazine articles. I have no idea how many of my newspaper columns, short pieces and product evaluations have been published, but it’s probably somewhere around 5,000. I don’t say that to brag — several of my friends have a lot more credits than I do — but rather to establish my bonafides as a separator of conservation wheat from conservation chaff.
Longevity isn’t a sure test of an organization’s legitimacy, but it’s a strong indicator. The National Wildlife Federation’s roots extend back before the 1930’s, but it was at the urging of Franklin Roosevelt that Ding Darling — a famed editorial cartoonist–formed the confederation that became known as the NWF in 1936. To quote Ding Darling, one of the reasons this new agency was so important to the future of America’s wildlife was “wildlife doesn’t vote, and neither do conservationists.”
The most interesting of the NWF’s many current projects is acting as a catalyst to bring together a coalition true environmentalists, conservationists, hunters, fishermen, ranchers, wind and fossil fuel energy producers and government agencies with a common goal to develop an ecosystem management plan for the sage brush steppe, which stretches along the front range of the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming to northern New Mexico. The plan will benefit every species of wildlife on the steppe, make room for traditional activities like hunting to continue, allow for minimally invasive extraction of oil, coal and wind power and protect local cultures.
Every change this complex needs a symbol, and the NWF chose the sage grouse, a species which the organization’s efforts was already bringing back from the brink of being declared endangered. Unfortunately, the sage grouse proved to be a tempting target for a strange coalition of mine-and-get-out extremists and the Defenders of Wildlife, which has filed suit in federal court to block the entire ecosystem restoration effort in favor of adding the sage grouse to the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act.
A visit to the DOW website — once you’ve fought your way through the web of pleas for funds — makes it clear that it never saw a species it didn’t think might be endangered. Rather than view the Endangered Species Act as a last resort, the DOW sees it as a first strike weapon. What’s worse, the DOW doesn’t want the ESA to do its intended job of restoring a species to the point where it can be delisted. To the contrary, the DOW is still battling the delisting of the grizzly bear and the gray wolf, despite the incontrovertible fact that the restoration of both species into the Rocky Mountains has been an astounding success.
Space prohibits going into detail on other organizations, but before you decide to support any “wildlife conservation” organization, visit its website. Is it’s goal is to preserve habitats for the benefit of many species — The Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Federation of Missouri are two good examples? If so, it’s one of the good guys. If its goal is to protect a single species with no regard to the ecosystem in which that species lives or if it makes outrageous claims to gain sympathy, check it off your list.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]