By Todd Waldron | RGS & AWS Forest Conservation Director – Northeast
I was a hunter long before I was a forester. A decade before basal area, stocking charts and silvicultural systems crossed my path, my grandfather and I sat under a big white pine that no longer stands, waiting for deer that never came, on a woodlot our family no longer owns. We contemplated deer sign and talked about witch-hobble, hardhack, popple and prickly ash. We talked about cutting next year’s firewood and corduroying the road and about the old garnet mine up on top of the hill. We seldom came home with deer or birds or hares back in those days. Everything associated with hunting came the hard way, and that was fine with us.
Hunting is a lifestyle that has always worked for me. I can’t think of a more honest reconciliation of my life’s footprint. The highly coveted days of October and November are far too few, both in a single year and over a lifetime. Hunting has shaped my love for the woods and my passion for sharing this with others. Of course, we all experience the outdoors, in our own ways and there are multiple pathways.
Over the years, as I started getting more interested in conservation, I became a supporter of several great communities, including Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), National Deer Association (NDA), Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and others. There are many more conservationists out there who are doing incredible work and are worthy of our support – including many non-hunting and angling-focused groups.
Yes, I know, “turf-ism” exists. We are, after all, passionate outdoor enthusiasts – in our pursuits and in our opinions. There are those who think turkeys and grouse aren’t compatible. There are archery deer hunters who probably cringe in their stands when a bird hunter comes busting through the early-season thickets. There are public land hunters and private land hunters, but we all love our wonderful days in the woods.
We all want quality habitat and clean water and good access and solitude – for the next 10 years and the next 100. We all want to connect with the outdoors, our families, our friends and ourselves. We all have our unique missions and passions and capabilities, and we devote our time, our lives and our wallets to passing these on to future generations.
We share many common interests as conservation communities and people who love the outdoors. That’s one of the many reasons I’m excited about the transformative work we’re doing at RGS & AWS to connect conservationists around forests and wildlife. It’s why I’m excited to work with the NWTF, MassWildlife, Massachusetts DCR, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and Franklin Land Trust to restore and enhance forest habitat diversity and resiliency across public and private lands throughout the Commonwealth.
This is why I’m excited to see Dr. Ben Jones and our RGS & AWS team being integral parts of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Pheasant Fest in Minneapolis this year. It’s why I traveled to NWTF’s Convention in Nashville to talk about our collaborative work in the Northeast with my friend and counterpart Matt DiBona at NWTF. It’s why I’ve shared numerous mornings and afternoons in a deer blind with new hunters and friends through the NDA’s Field to Fork mentoring program.
Matt Ross, the NDA’s Director of Conservation and a co-organizer of New York’s Field to Fork programs, says it so well in describing the critical importance of partnerships. “The National Deer Association’s mission is to ensure the future of wild deer, wildlife habitat and hunting. That probably sounds familiar. We’ve accomplished a lot in the past 35 years, but we certainly haven’t done it alone. Our staff relies a lot on partnerships. The best things happen when conservation partners join forces and focus on a single goal. We all care about wildlife and wild places, so it makes sense for groups with shared values around habitat, science-based management and healthy ecosystems to leverage their complementary strengths and accomplish together what couldn’t be done separately.”
If all this talk about commonalities doesn’t convince you of the benefits of working together to achieve landscape-level impacts for forests and wildlife, there are also some highly pragmatic reasons to do so. For instance, we have once-in-a-generation opportunities on the conservation funding side. The Inflation Reduction Act has earmarked $46.6 billion for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, including $2.2 billion for U.S. Forest Service State and private forestry programs, $550 million in competitive programs for non-federal forest landowners and $8 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for private landowners.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $5.5 billion to conservation initiatives and resiliency work on U.S. Forest Service lands. If it can be resurrected and passed, Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) would contribute $1.4 billion to habitat initiatives. Funding of this magnitude can help us scale our success and expand our impact across entire landscapes, but we need to work together because nobody can leverage these opportunities alone.
The early 20th Century conservationists who launched the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation were forward-thinking leaders. They looked ahead, saw the big picture and worked together. The good news is we’re working together as well. When we work together with partners to connect the dots between healthy forests and habitat, we offer our collective shoulders to grouse, woodcock, forests and future generations to come. It’s all worth it.