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A Boon(e) for Stewardship: What America’s Oldest Conservation Club Taught Me About Caring for Nature

By: Molly Good, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, USFWS Washington Fish and Wildlife Office

Working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), I have long held deep admiration of and appreciation for America’s conservation heroes, including John Muir, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson, to name a few. Their lasting contributions continue to enhance our nation’s scientific understanding of ecosystems and natural processes, management and preservation of land and natural resources for future use, and recreational opportunities. These founding conservationists and their legacies have also motivated me to find ways to leave my own mark on the natural world. Over time, I have found that modern-day conservation heroes exist too, and that, depending on their values and goals, they can be powerful partners with our agency in affecting positive change for our nation’s wildlife and people. For me, The Boone and Crockett Club – the oldest conservation organization in America – exemplifies the power of positive change through its diverse and inspirational network of natural resource stewards.

Theodore Roosevelt, founder of the Boone and Crockett Club

I was a bright-eyed, twenty-four year-old graduate student when my advisor introduced me, through his involvement, to the Boone and Crockett Club. I am ashamed to admit I knew nothing about the Club at the time, yet I couldn’t kick the theme song from Disney’s 1955 movie, “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier!” from my head! I was impressed to learn that Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell founded the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887 in response to declines in wildlife populations, especially in large animals or big game. At the time, founding Club members were particularly motivated to think creatively about how to balance human and wildlife needs while maintaining traditions and a fair chase ethic around resource consumption, especially as a wildlife management tool. Since the late 1880s, the Club and its membership—which has included military and political leaders, business leaders, outdoors sports enthusiasts, scientists, writers, and industrialists—have coordinated regularly, campaigned and raised money, pioneered policy initiatives, and initiated legislation to advance the following mission:

“…to promote the conservation and management of wildlife, especially big game, and its habitat, to preserve and encourage hunting and to maintain the highest ethical standards of fair chase and sportsmanship in North America.”

Waterfowl hunting at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington; Photo credit: USFWS

The USFWS and Boone and Crockett Club align in their dedication to increasing access to public lands and their recognition of hunting and fishing as a cornerstone of our American heritage. In the last year, the U.S. Department of Interior has taken significant action to expand public access to public lands and waters by creating new hunting and fishing opportunities at National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries, which are managed by the USFWS. The expansion spans 4 million acres nationwide across the refuge system and, of the total 567 National Wildlife Refuges, the public may now hunt at 399, and fish at 331, of them. This expansion, coupled with other monumental legislative achievements such as the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, have been successful, in part, as a result of a shared vision among federal agencies, the Club, and other organizations and their commitment to preserving important natural areas for our use and enjoyment.

The USFWS and Boone and Crockett Club also align in their goal to increase access to hunting and angling opportunities for underrepresented groups and educate the public, especially youth, to promote shared use of natural resources and build stewardship of maintaining healthy ecosystems. In addition to supporting a Conservation Education Committee that meets regularly, the Boone and Crockett Club manages the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch, a working cattle ranch on the East Front of the Montana Rockies in Dupuyer, Montana. Approximately 2,500 students and educators participate in the Club’s Conservation Education Program, which includes classes, programs, and trainings hosted at the Ranch, each year.

The Boone and Crockett Club’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch in Missoula, Montana

Boone and Crockett Club President, Tim Brady, reflects upon the importance of the Club’s Professional membership in supporting these conservation policy and educational initiatives, stating that “these accomplishments would not be possible were it not for the hard work and dedication of our Professional Members, most of whom are hunters themselves and either work in wildlife and habitat management for federal and state agencies, partner with the Club’s University Programs, or are affiliated with like-minded conservation organizations.” In my own life, I feel privileged to have had the experience tracking deer in the snow, watching a bird dog flush pheasants out of a field, and land a steelhead on an 8 wt fly rod from the river. The relationships I have built within the Club, however, have shaped my values about hunting and fishing, fair chase ethics, wildlife management, and conservation the most. My eager interest in supporting the Club’s activities, and my participation in the Club’s various committees and annual meetings, helped m secure a Professional Membership with the Club in 2019. I am honored to be part of this membership, which includes 172 wildlife professionals and enthusiasts from across the nation, and I feel more knowledgeable in my role as a biologist with the USFWS, and more capable of understanding the values held by the diverse human natural resource users we serve.

Students glassing terrain at the Ranch

While recognizing that all of us use and appreciate the natural world in different ways, and that we all have our personal conservation heroes, I hope this story also inspires you to leave your own mark and enhance your own conservation stewardship—the sustainability of our natural resources and future of our recreational privileges depends on it!

Roosevelt Elk at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge in the Willamette Valley, Oregon; Photo Credit: USFWS