Conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts from across the country gathered in Estes Park, Colorado for the 80th annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), June 16-18. Many areas of concern for wildlife and habitat were discussed. Privatization of wildlife, transfer of public lands, sportsmen’s issues and conservation funding were key areas of discussion.
The NWF was formed in 1936 when Jay “Ding” Darling, a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to convene more than 2,000 hunters, anglers and conservationists from across the country to the first North American Wildlife Conference in Washington, DC. Darling’s vision of a federation promoting conservation interests, encouraging social diversity, and demanding action from Congress lives on today. NWF is America’s largest conservation organization, with 6 million supporters, and 50 state and territorial affiliate organizations.
Protecting national public lands from politicians who are hoping to sell them off for a short-term financial gain was a major emphasis of the meeting. A large rally was held on the lawn of the YMCA of the Rockies to show support for national public lands. Leaders from numerous western state conservation organizations addressed the crowd. All expressed a similar message of “keep your hands off our lands.”
“Since 1936, when Ding Darling’s vision of a conservation army began to form with the founding of the National Wildlife Federation, this organization has been made up hunters and anglers, birders and gardeners, farmers and foresters–all of whom shared a passion for wildlife and conservation,” Collin O’Mara, CEO of NWF said. “Now more than ever, we need to speak out for fish and wildlife, clean air and water and wild places. We are making it very perfectly clear to our political leaders and candidates that, if they want our support, we expect them to support America’s public lands, to be responsible stewards, and to maintain the great conservation legacy built by their predecessors.”
Chad Karges, manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was in attendance and addressed the crowd during the Opening General Session. He explained a lot about how the occupation of the refuge actually took place, and how militants from numerous anti-government militias have embedded in the communities surrounding Malheur, even though local residents have overtly expressed the militias are not welcome there. Karges was pleased with the way local, state and Federal agencies worked together to end the occupation. He said their plan all along was to wait out the terrorists, minimize risk for loss of life, and not help them build support for their cause.
A large caucus met to discuss the issue of privatized wildlife, mainly captive cervids, which includes all members of the deer family. Across the country, states are trying to figure out how to slow the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. Completely ending the movement of captive cervids from facility to facility is a top priority of many conservation organizations. O’Mara has recently met with USDA leadership to discuss options.
Sportsmen are our nation’s leading conservationists, and they were well represented at the NWF meeting. Two concerns addressed during the Sportsman Caucus were pending legislation in Washington D.C. and funding for conservation efforts. The Pittman-Robertson Act began funding conservation in 1938 through the creation of an excise tax on firearms, ammunition and certain hunting related sporting goods. Today, some politicians are looking for ways to potentially reform Pittman-Robertson. NWF is keeping a close eye on their progress and engaging in the process to protect this critical measure.
Wildlife conservation doesn’t just happen. If it were not for the millions of Americans who pursue fish and game, and those who generally appreciate the outdoors, our nation’s landscape and our wildlife would look vastly different. It takes an army to defend the diversity of wildlife across this country. Thankfully, the NWF with all their affiliate organizations, including the Indiana Wildlife Federation, is leading the charge.