by Benjamin C. Jones | RGS & AWS President & CEO
As I write this, it’s mid-April, the sun is out, but it’s damp and chilly. That has me reminiscing about heading to the Pittsburgh Pirates opener at Three Rivers Stadium every year with my dad: The emerald green field as we emerged from the concourse, the smack of the ball hitting gloves during warmups and the cutting chill posed by the spring air and all that concrete in the old stadium. I still love baseball, although my own playing time was cut short with the realization that it impeded on trout fishing and spring turkey hunting.
Nonetheless, a thought that struck me then, as it does now, was the manager’s role. How do they lead 24 professional players, the best of the best, many of whom are more skilled than the coach? With recent recruits to our RGS & AWS habitat team, I’m getting a sense of how they must feel; and we are none too soon getting this team in the field.
In 2020, a working group led by leading grouse biologists highlighted the problem before us. They tell us clearly that we must take our game to a whole new level:
Urgent action is needed at the landscape scale, above and beyond localized habitat improvement efforts, to halt the decline in ruffed grouse and other young forest species. Ruffed grouse seem destined for extirpation in several areas unless immediate habitat restoration is initiated … the scope and scale of declines call for a different approach. Large-scale strategic planning and carefully prioritized implementation is needed to accomplish the goal of sustaining ruffed grouse and other young forest species.
Science has set the course and it’s a monumental challenge. The ability to confront it head on wouldn’t be possible without all of you – the RGS & AWS network. The work of staff, board members, chapter leaders, partners and supporters during the past 60 years has served as a springboard for where we are today.
Right now, we have an incredibly capable team of development professionals, membership support and mission-oriented staff who make sure we’re as efficient and effective as possible. As proof of that, Charity Navigator rates us as a top tier, four-star charity for the last six years in a row. Our whole team is forging ahead with enthusiasm and driving big wins already in 2021, including our most successful spring membership drive in recent memory.
With all that in mind, conservation delivery is at the heart of everything we do. Let me introduce you to a few heavy hitters on our roster of forest wildlife professionals:
Jon Steigerwaldt – Great Lakes and Upper Midwest
Jon brings deep, practical forestry knowledge along with creativity needed to see forest management through a wildlife lens. Jon’s region was recently expanded from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa to include Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. For good reason; Jon has built a robust forest management network including RGS & AWS’ first Forest Service Stewardship contracts. He has already started expanding such efforts in his “new” states.
Nick Biemiller – Southern Appalachians
Nick has experience and keen interest in connecting wildlife habitat with responsible forestry. By sheer land percentages, the greatest opportunity for grouse and woodcock habitat in Nick’s region is on National Forest. He understands that timber harvests on National Forest are the result of fortitude and solid strategy. He works tirelessly on each step, from taking a lead role in Forest Plans, through the many processes that ultimately lead to habitat creation.
Ben Larson – Mid-Atlantic
While working from within, Ben made a business case for the forest products industry to support wildlife habitat restoration. He’s successfully bridged the gap between landscape habitat needs and wood markets required to get the work done. Ben also has a strong land ethic that goes back to his days working the family farm in community supported agriculture.
Todd Waldron – New England and New York
Todd has been engaged for over 20 years promoting healthy forest management across the Northeast. His experience in forest investment, forestry consulting and project management is joined with a life-long passion for wildlife and outdoor pursuits. Todd also has worked hard to incorporate smart communications strategies into his work; a real benefit when advocating for active forest management.
Speaking of communications, it’s an integral part of habitat delivery. There are two important pieces; making sure that you all, our members, can stay up to date on what we are accomplishing together, and sharing the message with a broad audience that forest management essential for wildlife. Our aces on that delivery are Brent Rudolph, Chief Conservation & Legislative Officer, and Ashley Peters, Director of Communications & Marketing. Brent and Ashley work in tandem to ensure that conservation delivery staff, partners, members, supporters and policymakers are hearing about our successes. Through their expertise, we’re reaching new audiences with the message that forest wildlife need us to scale up our efforts right now.
Together with the entire RGS & AWS staff, the habitat team is working every day on what leading biologists tell us is needed – practical, bold initiatives for forest management at scale. It’s motivating to work with such an accomplished squad and I firmly believe that ruffed grouse survival hinges on our ability to build regional habit networks with a new approach. The old concrete stadium and my early baseball heroes are gone. While I can’t take my kids to see Willie Stargell crush a home run into the upper deck of Three Rivers, I can work to give them something more enduring, the opportunity to head to the woods and hear rhythmic drumming of ruffed grouse on chilly spring days.