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posted in: Ambassadors

December 15, 2016

A Bucket List ‘Bout Empty in the Cowboy State

Ambassador Earl DeGroot exemplifies the lure of public lands in Wyoming

TRCP’s Ambassador program calls on sportsmen-conservationists to help advance our goals by offering local volunteer support. These #PublicLandsProud hometown heroes are not willing to sit idly by as the wild places we love are lost. They know there’s more to our sports than just hunting, fishing, and going home.

Meet Earl DeGroot, our volunteer ambassador in Wyoming. The promise of public lands inspired DeGroot to move to Wyoming some 32 years ago, so it’s no surprise that he’s ready to stand up to threats against them now. DeGroot is a man of action and an experienced asset for conservation. We talked to our latest ambassador recruit about the threats to public lands and what everyday sportsmen can do to help.

A beautiful bighorn taken in the Absarokas. Image courtesy of Earl DeGroot.

TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?

DeGroot: My earliest memories are of shooting ground squirrels (gophers) with my father and my uncle on my grandfather’s farm in North Dakota. I did this quite often from ages ten to 14.  I don’t know why, but that experience got me hooked on hunting and the outdoors. I loved staying at the farm and usually stayed there when I wasn’t in school back in the city where my parents lived.

Thirty-two years ago, I moved to Wyoming to be near an abundance of public land. These days, you will find me enjoying our federal lands for hunting, camping, hiking, snowmobiling, ATVing, snapping photos of wildlife. One of my favorite pastimes is exploring the millions of acres of federal land in Wyoming and Colorado. This year 2016 was extra special for me. I call it “the trifecta year.” I shot my first black bear in June. In September, I cashed in 21 preference points to go on a successful guided Wyoming sheep hunt. And in October, I accompanied my wife on a successful Colorado elk hunt that cost her 26 preference points. It was a banner year!

TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?

DeGroot: The federal land transfer issue is a top priority for me. Being a decades-long Republican, I feel betrayed by the GOP for passing a resolution to transfer federal lands to the states. Having worked for and with Wyoming’s state government for 30 years (now retired), I am convinced that the state cannot afford to manage millions of additional acres of public land—they would need to extensively develop lands or sell some/most of them.

At this point, many of Wyoming’s elected officials have not responded to public opposition to transfer. Opposition is often dismissed as fringe group resistance from radical environmental groups, perhaps from out-of-state. To show there is strong grassroots, in-state opposition, a small group of us started a Facebook page entitled “Wyoming Sportsmen for Federal Lands”. The page has grown beyond expectations, currently to 3,500 followers, and has captured the attention of elected officials. One of the goals is to build so much public resistance to transfer that no politician would dare to introduce transfer legislation in the state of Wyoming. That maybe a lofty goal, but I believe we are headed in that direction. I look forward to assisting TRCP with their fight against federal land transfer in any way I might be of assistance.

TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?

DeGroot: If federal lands were to be transferred to the states, or privatized, there would be a hugely negative impact on wildlife populations and hunting and fishing access. At the current time, much of the western United States enjoys relatively unrestricted big game migration routes. Extensive development or privatization would make it difficult for big game to travel back and forth from summer range to winter range. Population numbers would almost certainly decline. This is just one example of the negative impact of federal land transfer.

While everyday sportsmen are important in the fight against transfer, their support alone is not enough. We must go beyond sportsmen and get the support of the voting public. Often times, outdoor organization focus too much on their membership which is a small portion of the voting public. They need to cast a wider net, and reach out to the general public.

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt?

DeGroot: My most memorable hunt was my spring 2016 black bear hunt. Starting a number of years ago, I began to see more black bear sign in my elk hunting area in southeast Wyoming. I even caught glimpses of a few bears while bow hunting. I have shot many elk, deer, and antelope, but I had never shot a black bear—I hadn’t even seen very many. So, my wife and I began baiting bears in both spring and fall. Baiting is legal in Wyoming and, in fact, it’s an important management tool, but it surprised us how much work it was. Much of the media portrays baiting as too easy and unfair. Our experience was anything but. It was a lot of work sometimes involving snowshoes and sleds, as we made numerous 250 mile round trips to tend baits and check trail cameras.

Last spring we were excited to see we had at least 10 bears on camera, but many of them came during the night when we couldn’t hunt. But we waited, sitting in a blind near the bait, which allowed us a clear short-range shot and provided plenty of time to ensure there were no cubs with the bear. After much time invested, I finally connected with an eleven year old black bear (as later determined by tooth analysis) early on the morning of June 5. Because of the level of difficulty, because it was entirely DIY, because we had to figure it all out ourselves, because it was on public land, and because bears are such an elusive animal, I consider this to be one of my most memorable and rewarding hunts. It was a very rewarding experience!

TRCP’s Wyoming ambassador with his 2016 public lands black bear. Image courtesy of Earl DeGroot.

TRCP: What’s still on your bucket list?

DeGroot: At age 68, most of my hunt bucket list has been accomplished. I now look forward to simply enjoying OUR federal lands.

TRCP: What’s your favorite Theodore Roosevelt quote?

DeGroot: “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin you country of its beauty, its riches, or its romance.”

To find out more about the TRCP Ambassador program, please contact TRCP’s deputy director of Western lands, Coby Tigert, at CTigert@trcp.org or 208-681-8011.

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Kevin Farron

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posted in: Ambassadors

November 30, 2016

A Big Game Expert Becomes a Conservation Champion in Colorado

Meet the TRCP volunteer keeping a watchful eye on energy development and habitat management in elk country

TRCP’s ambassador program calls on sportsmen-conservationists to help advance our goals by offering local volunteer support. These #PublicLandsProud hometown heroes are not willing to sit idly by as the wild places we love are lost. They know there’s more to our sports than just hunting, fishing, and going home.

Meet John Ellenberger, our newest volunteer ambassador representing the great state of Colorado. For three decades, Ellenberger worked as a wildlife biologist and big game manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and he’s seen it all. Over the years, he’s also learned that, in conservation as in hunting and fishing, there’s a time for restraint—passing on a small bull to get a chance at a monster next year or sacrificing a productive hunt to share the experience with a squirmy grandchild—and a time for action. Learn more about our Colorado ambassador and why we’re glad to have him on our side.

TRCP’s Colorado ambassador with his rocky mountain bull. Photo courtesy of John Ellenberger.

TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?

Ellenberger: My earliest outdoor memory is going rabbit hunting with my Dad and older sister. I had to be only 3 or 4 years old at the time, so it didn’t take very long before my sister and I would get tired and didn’t want to walk anymore. Dad would then carry both of us, plus his shotgun, and any rabbits he had killed, back to our car. Now that I have children and grandchildren of my own, I have a great deal of respect for the patience that my father must have had. He was willing to take two youngsters hunting with him even though he knew it would likely result in his outing being cut short because we would get tired or bored. I applaud his efforts in attempting to include us in his outdoor activities, and I try to do the same with my grandkids now, no matter how short their attention spans.

TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?

Ellenberger: Approximately three or four years ago, Joel Webster called asking for help assessing the impacts of energy development on deer and elk habitat in northwestern Colorado. I was referred to TRCP because of my years of experience working as a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the northwestern portion of the state. We developed a working relationship on that original issue and several others. The work TRCP was doing impressed me—your staff wasn’t simply blaming wildlife managers for declining wildlife populations or dropping hunter success rates. The organization understood the importance of protecting habitat as a way to preserve and protect wildlife populations, and you are willing to take that message to the public and try to influence them to take action in support of habitat protection issues. I wanted to be a part of that.

Beginning as a field biologist in the Northwest Region of the state in 1976, I worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife, for 33 years. I was the senior terrestrial biologist for the NW region of CDOW from 1979 to 1996, before becoming the state big game manager, and I held that position until I retired in 2004. My experience has provided me with a wealth of information about terrestrial wildlife populations in northwestern Colorado, I maintain good working relationships with wildlife managers, and I understand how the agency manages various wildlife populations for which they are responsible. Compared to the average sportsmen, all of this gives me a leg up when it comes to making science-based recommendations for conservation issues that the TRCP is involved in.

TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?

Ellenberger: Sportsmen can influence political decisions that affect wildlife populations and their habitat by first informing themselves about the issues and then contacting natural resource managers and elected officials to express their educated opinions and preferences. In Colorado and other Western states, there are numerous issues that have the potential to have negative impacts on wildlife populations and their habitats. Unless sportsmen share their opinions on projects affecting wildlife and wildlife habitat, decisions will be made that might negatively impact wildlife and sportsmen’s opportunities to utilize and enjoy wildlife resources.

In addition to hunting and fishing, Ellenberger enjoys hiking, mountain biking, and photographing wildlife. Photo courtesy of John Ellenberger.

TRCP: What’s the most pressing conservation issue where you live?

Ellenberger: There are a number of important conservation issues in western Colorado, but first and foremost is the impact of energy development­—primarily drilling for natural gas—on wildlife and habitat. The need to oppose the transfer of ownership and management of public lands is also very important.

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?

Ellenberger: One of my most memorable hunts was the year I drew a bull elk tag for unit 201 in northwest Colorado. On the first day of that hunt I called a young bull to within nine yards. Although I chose not to harvest that particular bull, it was very exciting to experience that animal up close and personal, to the point that I could watch him blink and flare his nostrils as he breathed. My patience paid off as I harvested a larger bull a few days later, but it was almost anti-climactic compared to the experience of calling in that first bull.

I have two sons-in-law and two grandchildren, and I hope to be able to instill a strong interest in hunting, fishing, and conservation in all of them. Hunting and fishing trips with them would be on my bucket list.

TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?

Ellenberger: I already had the opportunity to hunt bull elk during the first rifle elk season here in Colorado. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to harvest an animal, we saw a number of elk and the total experience was enjoyable. I plan to pursue chukar partridges later this fall, and if the warm weather continues, I hope to be able to make a few more fly fishing trips to the Gunnison River. In addition to hunting and fishing, I will be out and about hiking, mountain biking, and photographing wildlife.

Kevin Farron

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posted in: Ambassadors

November 3, 2016

From the AT to the Tetons, How a Career in Conservation Led to the TRCP

TRCP’s Idaho ambassador discusses his first bull elk, his love of the Snake River, and how his family cabin in Massachusetts started it all

Launching this fall, TRCP’s ambassador program calls on sportsmen-conservationists to help advance our goals by offering local volunteer support. These #PublicLandsProud hometown heroes are not willing to sit idly by as the wild places we love are lost. They know there’s more to our sports than just hunting, fishing, and going home.

Meet Bob Breckenridge, our volunteer ambassador out of Idaho. He’s a veteran of conservation work who won’t let retirement stop him from giving something back to hunting and fishing, and we’re glad to have him on our side. Here’s what he loves about chasing Idaho elk, exploring the Tetons, and searching for giant, elusive browns on the Snake River.

TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?

Breckenridge: Just off the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts, my family cabin was built in the 1850s and had no running anything. Our family spent two weeks each summer in the woods, playing in our creek and having great times around the campfire. These days, I am often in the Tetons, or biking and hiking trails in Idaho. We have a cabin 12 miles east of Ashton, Idaho, that provides great access to fishing and hunting in Eastern Idaho.

TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?

Breckenridge: I recently retired from a career working on conservation and stewardship issues in Idaho and around the world, and I’m anxious to put my talents to good use for TRCP. I’m particularly well-versed in working with many environmental agencies, and as a volunteer I will help the TRCP spread the word about the importance of conservation and ensuring the future of our resources for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?

Breckenridge: Sportsmen and sportswomen should tap into their passion and speak up for millions of Americans who enjoy the outdoors. TRCP is in a position to reach across traditional boundaries, build consensus, harness the power of individual voices, and be an agent of positive change for fish and wildlife, anglers, and hunters.

TRCP: What’s the most pressing conservation issue where you live?

Breckenridge: In Idaho, fragmentation of critical habit is the most immediate conservation issue. Natural forces (fire and drought) and a number of anthropogenic pressures (development, roads, growth, etc.) cause large, continuous landscapes to be broken up into isolated patches of habitat, which is a bad situation for wildlife. Management of fragmentation pressures requires a comprehensive conservation strategy, which can only be tackled through strategic partnerships, like the ones TRCP is working to create.

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?

Breckenridge: The hunt during which I shot my first bull elk in Idaho comes to mind. I hunted in northern Idaho’s Unit 10, and driving all the way up there from Idaho Falls gave me a lot of time to practice bugling. On the morning of opening day, I caught up with a bugling bull. After three hours pursuing him over several ridges, I shot him at 20 yards. He was my first bull—a nice six-point.

As for my bucket list, I would like to catch a five-pound brown on the South Fork of the Snake River, a public waterway that has been known to produce big trout.

TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?

Breckenridge: This fall I can be found floating the Salmon River and spending time mountain biking in the Targhee and Teton National Forests. I am also lucky enough to be going to Europe to explore three major rivers and travel from Amsterdam to Budapest. I’m interested to see how the Europeans have addressed conservation after being on their land for centuries longer than U.S. settlers. I will also be fishing the South Fork of the Snake and going on a black powder elk hunt once the weather cools.

We’ll be introducing more of our volunteer ambassadors throughout the fall. Read more about our other ambassadors here.

To find out more about the TRCP Ambassador program, please contact TRCP’s deputy director of Western lands, Coby Tigert, at CTigert@trcp.org or 208-681-8011.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: Ambassadors

September 26, 2016

Oregon’s Public Lands Are a Playground for TRCP’s Beaver State Ambassador

Ambassador Nathan Bailey wants to guarantee his boys have a place to hunt and fish

Launching this fall, TRCP’s ambassador program calls on sportsmen-conservationists to help advance our goals by offering local volunteer support. These #PublicLandsProud hometown heroes are not willing to sit idly by as the wild places we love are lost. They know there’s more to our sports than just hunting, fishing, and going home.

Meet Nathan Bailey, our volunteer ambassador out of Oregon. Bailey has spent a lifetime chasing outdoor pursuits in rural Oregon. He’s determined today to share these experiences with his own kids, and make sure that public lands stay in public hands. Bailey’s commitment to conservation is a big asset for sportsmen and women in Oregon, and we’re proud to have him on our team.

Bailey with his trusty recurve. Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?

Bailey: I grew up in the rural Southeast Oregon town named Chiloquin. Like most rural kids, my life consisted of outdoor activities; we had nothing else to do. I was also surrounded by acres and acres of public lands which offered us a playground beyond any young person’s dream. I can’t remember a time in my life when the outside world wasn’t a part of my daily activities. I was ice fishing before I could walk and have never missed a hunting season.

Today, not much has changed, as I continue to spend most of my time in outdoor pursuits. If I’m not guiding people down my home rivers – the Rogue and Williamson – you’ll find me tromping all over Southern Oregon in pursuit of elk, mule deer, and gamebirds of all sorts. I also love to gather wild berries, mushrooms, and anything else our public lands provide.

Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?

Bailey: TRCP impressed me in their approach to conservation. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a nonprofit that is so passionate about their cause, yet prudent enough to build bridges rather than walls. Being of the same mind, I can help build bridges through a professional sportsman’s influence. Alongside TRCP, I plan on giving sportsmen/women a voice in in the public forums that decide how we get to use OUR public land.

TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?

Bailey: First and foremost, hunters and anglers provide a lot of our nation’s conservation dollars. We need to educate the general public about that fact. Sportsmen need to have a strong voice in the law-making process to ensure that wildlife – and the resources that make strong populations possible – continue to be represented. We also need to support organizations who give us such a collective and powerful voice, such as the TRCP.

Wild trout, caught and released. Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

TRCP: What’s the most pressing conservation issue where you live?

Bailey: TRANSFER OF PUBLIC LANDS. I can’t say it loudly enough. The big push out West is to sell off public lands. As a sportsmen who as a young man lost miles of river access, trust me when I tell you that we need to keep public lands in OUR HANDS!

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?

Bailey: My most memorable hunt was in the Ochoco National Forest in Central Oregon. It was a youth hunt and I had all three of my boys with me. My two youngest stayed with me as we pushed a draw for the oldest.  I’ll never forget trying to get my youngest to silence the BBs that were sloshing around in his Red Ryder BB gun as we made our push.  The plan worked perfectly. We ran two cows right to my oldest, and he quickly harvested one of them. What a great day all the boys had providing for the family!

Bailey packing out elk quarters, a sign of success on public lands. Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?

Bailey: I will be chasing wild elk through the cascade wilderness, swinging the Rogue for an elusive steelhead, waiting out a wily blacktail in a gnarled old oak tree, or whispering sweet nothings to a flock of mallards over a set of decoys in the Klamath Basin. It’s a blessing to live in Southern Oregon and have access to its abundant wild lands, and with the help of the TRCP, we can preserve our outdoor heritage to keep it that way.

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