America’s hunting legacy is as old as the country itself. The immigrants who first arrived on these shores had left behind the agricultural staples they relied upon in the old world, so hunting became one of the sole means of survival. These pioneers forged an American hunting tradition that became part of the bedrock of our society. Yet, as the population increased, the need for wild game meat and natural resources increased, too. Wildlife suffered. By the late 19th century, many game animal species balanced precariously on the brink of extinction. Hunters and anglers began to realize they needed to save what they loved. Inspired by the policies and beliefs of then-President Theodore Roosevelt, conservation groups began to form all over the country. These groups led efforts to stop market hunting, protect endangered species, create hunting seasons, establish and protect public lands, and create funding structures to pay for what is now known as professional conservation. Thanks to the early efforts of these groups, the American hunting tradition is alive and well in our society today. Still, conservation remains a continuous battle. Conservation groups are as important as ever to the more than 11 million hunters in our country today. And there are few groups or people that do more to ensure our hunting legacy will continue than the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) and their current president, Whit Fosburgh.
Officially formed in 2002, the TRCP first came into being when a coalition of conservation organizations, outdoor businesses, and one determined politician came together over concern for the lack of a united voice for hunters and anglers in Washington. In the early 20th century, the concerns of sportsman over dwindling wildlife numbers and the destruction of healthy habitat had gained national attention. But by the 1980s it seemed the voice of sportsmen had begun to wane in federal policymaking. At the time, many hunters and anglers were also turned off by the increasing political divergence of environmental policies and just politics in general. Moreover, most small conservation groups were too fixated on just one species or region to pay much attention to the larger conservation issues churning in Washington.
One person who took notice of this was avid sportsman Jim Range, Senator Howard Baker’s chief counsel. Range was terrified by the idea of hunters and anglers’ concerns being lost in Washington and that, without it, the sports he loved could be lost in a tidal wave of perceived progress. Range knew there had to be a unifying effort to bring the community together and create a united front for federal conservation concerns. So, Range and a group of fellow conservationists and sportsmen decided to create the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. It was formed to “guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.” Today, TRCP is the largest coalition of conservation organizations in the country, working to unite and amplify the voices of sportsmen and women by convening hunting and fishing groups, conservation organizations, and outdoor businesses around a common purpose.
Currently, the president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is Whit Fosburgh, who took the reins back in 2010. Whit has been an avid hunter and angler for his entire life and has always felt that he was destined to be where he is now. “I think conservation was bred into me,” Whit told The Ultimate Predator. Whit’s father worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in Rensselaer County, New York. From the very beginning of Whit’s life, his father was always talking to his fishing- and hunting-crazed son about the importance of conservation. Whit grew up in Cherry Plain, New York where he spent most of his time fishing the Little Hoosick River and wandering the vast woodlands of southeastern New York. When he wasn’t there, Whit and his brother spent most of their time hunting Whit’s favorite game animal, the whitetail deer, at their family camp—in their family since the 1880s—in Minerva, New York, in the very heart of the Adirondack Mountains. Whit simply knew from a very young age that he was destined to become a conservationist.
He attended Georgetown University, where he majored in government, with a concentration in international relations, before moving on to the Yale School of the Environment to earn his master’s in forestry (where, incidentally, the famed conservationist Aldo Leopold also attended). “That led to a career in conservation policy, which was as close as I could come to making my avocation my vocation,” says Whit. “I have worked in the U.S. Senate, at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and at Trout Unlimited, all of which laid the groundwork for the job I have today. I gained valuable experience inspiring advocacy, parsing conservation policy, and fundraising. In fact, when I was at TU, we helped to create the TRCP, and Jim Range was a friend and mentor. So, when Jim tragically passed in 2009, going to TRCP felt like a natural evolution of my career.”
When asked about why hunters should care about not just the TRCP but conservation in general, Whit says, “I wish they didn’t have to. I wish that just buying a license and ammo and the like was enough and they could just concentrate on going hunting. But it doesn’t work that way. Hunters need to be involved in not just our organization but whatever organization they can in whatever way they can, if we are going to ensure that hunting exists for future generations.”
During Whit’s tenure as president, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has grown to be one of the largest conservation organizations in the country. Under their banner, 60 not-for-profit partners, hundreds of businesses, and more than 115,000 individuals are all united by preserving and strengthening conservation in America. The TRCP solely focuses on federal policy. They don’t work on restoring an individual wetland or teaching kids how to hunt, or other things that individual conservation groups concern themselves with, because their concentration is helping to create policy that will aid conservation groups that take on those sorts of projects.
TRCP has earned a strong reputation for providing nonpartisan policy and conservation advocacy in not only Washington D.C., but across the nation. The TRCP’s goal is to strengthen broad-based conservation efforts, improve wildlife and fish habitat, and ensure public access to the lands and waters of the nation. Some of the TRCP’s greatest accomplishments include: creating and expanding incentives for private landowners to conserve wildlife habitat and open their lands to public hunting and fishing, strengthening conservation funding that supports well-managed public and private lands, permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, addressing the landlocked public lands problem and offering solutions for unlocking more than 16 million acres, and constantly and tirelessly fighting to keep public lands in public hands.
If you’d like to get involved with TRCP, the first thing you can do is simply join. Membership is free and to do so simply go to www.trcp.org. When you become a member you will receive email alerts and can follow their social media posts, because being informed is the first step. Then go out and sign a petition, become an advocate, or make a donation. “Everyone can help in their own way, because passing the greatest system of conservation in the world on to our next generation is worth it,” says Whit. “When sportsmen and women unite, we are far stronger than we can be alone, and we generally win. Moreover, if we’re successful, it is likely that Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the National Deer Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, and many others will also be more successful in achieving their missions.” By joining the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, you are helping to ensure the woods and waters of our great nations will be available to hunt and fish for generations to come.