Conservation: There was a point in my life when just hearing the word caused me to think of granola-eating hippies chaining themselves to bulldozers by their dreadlocks to save a tree they named “Grandfather.” I used to think of it as an overly Bohemian, non-conformist, liberal practice that simply gave certain people the excuse to drop acid and conduct drum circles in the forest. Like so many other outdoorsman, I figured I was above that. I thought of the woods and waters of the world, and the animals and fish within them, as things that were put here for me to enjoy. I thought that by simply participating in the sports of hunting and fishing, I was doing my part to ensure the wild places of the world would remain for me to do so, because it was simply my right. I felt like I was doing enough for conservation, and that those goofy tree-huggers—ranting about the destruction of the planet from man’s greed and compulsion to meddle in the natural way of things—were simply making a big deal out of nothing. Then one day I woke up.
It started from the stories of the old men: my grandparents, uncles, and family friends who got me into hunting and fishing and mentored me when I first became fascinated with the outdoors. I’d sit around the fire with them, or listen from my bunk in the deer and duck camps of my youth, and I’d hear about their past hunting and fishing experiences. They told of the massive migrations of elk in western Montana, when thousands of elk would cross the mountain faces like waves of ants. I heard of the great Atlantic salmon runs of Maine and the fantastic northern California steelhead fisheries. I heard about the massive whitetail bucks of New England that could be tracked down in the November snow.
I heard stories about all of these wonderful places and beautiful things from all over the country, and no matter how much they varied they all had one thing in common: I would never be able to see them. I would never be able to hunt or fish in those places, at least not in their full glory, because those places, those animals, those fish, are either gone or have become shadows of what they once were. They’re gone because they were hunted out, because the areas where they lived were gutted for their natural resources, or simply vanished from a changing climate. Mostly though, they’re gone because the people who used them at their peak didn’t think much about the future or conservation. I started thinking about all these things I had missed. I felt cheated.
Then I started thinking about the times that we live in. I thought about the Pebble Mine, and the new Clean Water Act. I thought about how public lands are being contracted out to logging and gas companies. I thought about the dams that need to be taken down, and the weird agricultural society we live in where we feel like we can simply replace what we’ve lost with genetically modified crops and livestock. I thought about hunters and anglers who only care about catching or killing as much as they can. The ones who only subscribe to “what’s legal” and simply have no concern or thought for the fish or animals themselves or their own sporting future. I thought about all of those things. It terrified me.
I realized then that the outdoors are a limited resource, and as hunters and fisherman we are responsible for that resource. If we stand idly by and just let our collective fixation on personal gain and our locust-like greed continue, we’ll lose our wild lands and the animals in them forever. With that in mind, I started caring—deeply—about conservation. I started caring because, though I am just a simple, carefree fishing and hunting bum now, I might end up having kids someday. And I’ll want to teach about the outdoors. The idea of those future children listening to me telling stories of the places I hunted and fished that no longer exist scares the hell out of me. It should scare all of us.
We need to care. What’s more, we need fight. Protest the dams. Protest the mines. We need to call our congressman, plant trees, and be selective in our harvests. We need to join groups like Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. We need to donate our time or money, contributing to the cause in any way we can. Conservation is a battle, and regardless of how we prefer to hunt or fish, what political party we follow, or what sort of beats we like in our drum circles, we are all fighting it together. If we do nothing, if we continue to sit idly by and let the rivers simply flow into the greedy maws of uncaring governments and corporations, then one day soon, it will all be gone. The sports of fishing and hunting will simply be a shadow. A haunting memory of what could have been and should still be.