The Latest from Hilliard Management

From The Contemporary Sportsman (
Fall 2011
Vol. 2 No. 4

On the Waterfront: The Hand that Feeds You
By Russ Schnitzer

Today’s “contemporary sportsman” finds him or herself increasingly at risk of developing an identity crisis. You are here reading this because you get excited by the outdoors. I’d be willing to bet that also means you have at least a passing interest in some of the natural resource issues that pertain to your pursuits of choice. Growing up as a fish-obsessed kid in northern Minnesota, my attentions generally extended only so far as an issue might relate to the lakes and streams within reach. If a fishery with which I had first-hand experience made the news with some- thing amiss, I was more than concerned—I was ready to act. It was a different time, when our existential spheres were a bit smaller, more provincial. News was shared between friends and neighbors at the cafe´ or truck stop over coffee. Besides commodity prices and the weather, fishing and hunting was a strong common thread. We all fished the same waters, all walked many of the same woodlots for grouse, all revered the opening of big game season as sacred. Not many among this cast would have ever considered themselves particularly conservation-minded.Yet, the care and concern for natural resources ran deep, across generations and throughout communities.

It wasn’t until my world began to expand that I learned that folks like us were labeled as “conservationists.” As opposed to what? I wondered. It took me awhile to figure out what the whole thing meant. Harvest quotas, invasive species, woodlot management, poaching—these were issues of near-universal concern during my upbringing. The connection then was as it is today: simple, pragmatic. If you love fishing and hunting, you are then implicitly tied to the conservation and stewardship of natural resources. If you make your living off the land, i.e. agriculture, you are then innately concerned with the conservation and stewardship of natural resources. How then, did the whole thing get so confused?

If you love fishing and hunting, you are then implicitly tied to the conservation and stewardship of natural resources. …Conservation is doing something that contributes to the betterment and perpetuation of a natural asset.

I’ll make this point clear: conservation is NOT environmentalism. If you want to hug trees, or petition for the protection of the lesser hooded gallywink, knock yourself out. This is about conservation, which, on the basis postulated above, is doing something that contributes to the betterment and perpetuation of a natural asset. In fact, conservation might better be described as the very interface between people and the natural world in which we live. That’s the sweet spot, folks. Problem is, conservation as an ideal has been co-opted by any number of interests that are more concerned with equating such work to dollars. This is in stark contrast to fostering the discipline that is measured in cubic feet per second, trout per mile, or pounds of forage per acre. You get those kinds of results by investing in people—ranchers, farmers, landowners. And by that I mean real, working, on-the-ground relationships. No amount of glossy marketing material or focus-grouped messaging can replace genuine face time. Cups of coffee. Getting hands dirty. Following through day after day, month after month. In my neighborhood, that’s something that can’t be bullshitted.

When a landowner is able to realize a bottom-line benefit from implementing conservation practices, then that’s the best possible “win-win.” That’s conservation that works. When it does, neighbors notice. It becomes a topic of conversation at the diner and at the co-op. As one fifth-generation Wyoming rancher told me a few years back: “Mother nature is my best business partner.” It doesn’t need a label, it shouldn’t be stereotyped. It should simply be recognized as helping each other when interests are shared.

Next time you’re down at the creek or watching your dog work a windrow, consider the investments that make these opportunities possible. If possible, thank a landowner when they’ve done something positive for the resource. These folks on the waterfront are the future of conservation in many parts of the country. We must all work together to find ways to make conservation profitable and practical on private lands, or risk a future where that birdy windrow is replaced with drilling platforms, and access to the creek is locked up by residential subdivision. Maybe you’ve already seen that happen to some of your old haunts. I know I have, and it is gut-wrenching. The time for real conservation is now.

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