Randall Williams

November 13, 2019

In the Arena: Alan Wentz

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

W. Alan Wentz

Hometown: Germantown, Tennessee
Occupation: Retired. Chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited from 1991 to 2010.
Conservation credentials: Recent winner of the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award, a lifelong wildlife management professional, and a former TRCP Board member.

Growing up in Ohio, Alan Wentz inherited from his family and community a fascination with fish and wildlife that gave shape to his private and professional life. After earning several degrees en route to a doctorate in wildlife management from the University of Michigan, Wentz spent the following decades working on conservation policy at the state and national level. A former president of the Wildlife Society, he recently received the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award, the highest honor given annually by that organization to an individual who has made significant contributions to the field of wildlife.

Here is his story.

 

Early Influences

My younger brother and I were both introduced to hunting and fishing by our father, who wanted to be sure we knew how to handle firearms. Like many others of that generation, his experiences in WWII led him to ensure that his children had outdoor skills. And a long association with the Boy Scouts—including serving on camp staff for more than a decade—gave me a grounded understanding of nature, camping, archery, hiking, firearms, and more.

I was also lucky enough to have several hunting and fishing mentors in our neighborhood, including one who taught me about trapping and another who was a fur buyer. The lady who lived next door was retired and took me fishing all over the county. A classmate’s father, who operated his own outdoor shop selling mostly fishing gear in a converted garage, taught me about tying flies.

More than anything else in my life, I have been most interested in conservation and the outdoors. Even as a child I was allowed to wander around the fields and woodlots near our farmstead. Observing the plants and animals and how people interact with the outdoors has always fascinated me. I devoured anything I could find in our local library on hunting, fishing, trapping, conservation, forestry, or any related topics, and enjoyed reading outdoor magazines such as Fur, Fish, and Game.

It kept me busy at all hours.

From the time I met the local game warden, I knew I was destined to work in conservation. This was in spite of my high school counselors, who laughed off the idea, and my adviser as an undergraduate at Ohio State University. After initially being surprised that I tried to declare a major in conservation as a first-term freshman, he made me pass a special written test to show him I was serious. He finally understood that I really meant to build a career for myself in conservation. I never wavered from that idea, and it seems to have worked out well.

A Life Outdoors

Two of my fondest memories from the outdoors both took place with family. The first was on one of our several trips to canoe and fish on a string of wilderness lakes in Ontario during the early 1960s. We caught several large northern pike, and my brother hooked and nearly landed a very large fish that has no doubt grown larger every time we have told the story—it was a real monster!

The second was when my brother introduced me to turkey hunting in Virginia. He called in a beautiful bird that we were able to watch coming through the woods. It was wary and circled us seemingly unsure of what we were. I tracked the bird with my shotgun for what seemed like hours (but was likely only minutes) and finally shot it.

It had looked like a large black barrel rolling down the hillside toward us, and I was so fascinated by it and the experience that I almost forgot to pull the trigger! My brother said the suspense was almost more than he could stand! It made me an addict for turkey hunting, and I’ve indulged for several decades.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have hunted all sorts of game across North America, from Canada to Mexico and coast to coast, as well as overseas from New Zealand to Sweden. But of all the available opportunities, waterfowl hunting in eastern South Dakota or upland bird hunting on the prairies of Kansas hold a special attraction for me.

There is nothing like hunting the wind-swept prairies and public lands of our Great Plains, a landscape that I find endlessly fascinating. It can feel isolated and pristine and game can be abundant, even today and in spite of agricultural conversion and energy development. You can discover masses of upland game birds in these places and face weather that will literally steal your breath with the wind, cold, ice and snow, and blazing sun.

It is a truly remarkable experience to bend down to accept a prairie chicken from the mouth of your own Labrador retriever or to witness a 150-inch whitetail buck stand up and run away after you nearly stepped on it without knowing it was there. The abundance of life on the prairies seems almost a contradiction given how barren it can appear nearly any time of the year.

The Road Ahead

Looking to the future, we face plenty of conservation challenges, foremost among them getting people to understand that climate change is on us and that it is going to affect every aspect of our lives. These changes are going to mean major modifications to all natural resources and how humans depend on them for survival.

The general public tends to be extraordinarily ignorant of wildlife, conservation, and the base of natural wealth that sustains us all. I doubt we can overcome that ignorance and get people to accept that they must change how they live. It is the challenge of the future and one we must win.

I believe the TRCP fills a unique niche in conservation, and its outlook and philosophy is sorely needed to help us organize all the other groups that have more specific missions, while also trying to organize unaffiliated sportsmen and women. The community of outdoor groups is diverse and splintered with lots of opinions and goals. TRCP is there to help them and others understand what is at risk if we continue to talk to ourselves—or, worse yet, fight silly internal battles that are unimportant in the big picture.

With conservation facing some of its toughest challenges in our history, we have to make our conservation missions relevant and known to decision makers, young people, and voters across all nations before it is too late. There is precious little time left, and this vision must be brought to light for all to see and act upon.

An additional item I appreciate about the TRCP is the focus on access. I have been lucky enough for most of my life to be able to access both public and private lands without too much worry. However I have developed a neuro-muscular problem that has left me in a power wheelchair, and access is now a critical issue for me. It has made me aware of how many people face similar challenges.

Hopefully, access issues will be a focus of public agencies and other groups, which will greatly benefit many sportsmen and women across the country.

 

Top photo by Dale Humburg.

2 Responses to “In the Arena: Alan Wentz”

  1. Alex Echols

    Alan Wentz is truly deserving of this award. I first worked with Alan when we were writing the 1985 Conservation Title to the Farm Bill and he provided superb technical assistance that played a key role in making this landmark legislation possible.
    Too many awards are simply passed around to promote an institution – but this one is well placed and earned. Thank you Alan.

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Cory Deal

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October 2, 2019

In the Arena: Brianne Rogers

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

Brianne Rogers

Hometown: Bozeman, Montana
Occupation: Public relations consultant
Conservation credentials: A lifelong sportswoman and advocate.Worked for senators Max Baucus and John Walsh to advance conservation initiatives in Montana and nationally. Currently champions the protection of public lands in Alaska.
Favorite conservation quote: One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.

For Brianne Rogers, hunting is about experiences shared in the field and around the campfire. Her commitment to conservation has taken her all the way from small meeting rooms in Montana to Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, where she advocates against the seizure of public lands by private interests.

Here is her story.

I was first introduced to hunting by my dad, Brian Rogers. He was raised hunting ducks with his father and still recounts the childhood excitement of bringing birds home to pluck and roast whole.

After college, I moved back to my home state of Montana, got a Labrador retriever, and learned to train her with my dad. We’ve since had endless fun upland bird hunting in Montana and waterfowling across Montana, Canada, and Alaska.

I’ve had so many memorable times hunting, but nothing will match the intensity of hunting for king eiders—a large sea duck—off the coast of St. Paul Island, Alaska. We boarded a 20-foot inflatable boat and struck out into the Bering Sea to navigate eight-to-ten-foot swells.

In conditions like that there’s no staying dry. Instead, you’re being hit with freezing walls of briny water as your captain scans the waves for a line of calm water indicating the edge of the reef. The birds fly this stretch as they’re moving from roosting to feeding areas, and a good captain will position their hunter along this edge to set up for the hunt.

Ours was one such captain.

Eider ducks can fly at speeds of 45 to 65 miles per hour, so once you spot one, you need to mount your gun and lead the bird 10 to 20 feet before firing. Taking one down was so satisfying, because there were no second chances. Anything but a clean hit meant this tough sea bird would dive behind a wave, never to be seen again.

When hunting, location has always mattered less to me than the people I am with. The repartee and storytelling that comes at the end of a long day is hands down my favorite part of a hunting trip.

Hearing others share their favorite tales or having an older, more experienced hunter or colleague remind us of the “good ole days” always bring me back to something my dad shared with me decades ago: “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” The quote is from Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, and I think he captured the vital importance of hunter’s camaraderie perfectly. The shared experience that hunting engenders is so unique, it cannot be built in any other way.

I’ve focused my conservation advocacy on the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska. This 315,000-acre wilderness-and-wetland complex has remarkable expanses of eel grass and is vital to the survival of the world’s population of Pacific black brant and emperor geese. It’s an irreplaceable ecosystem that is facing a lot of challenges.

Designated as a Wetland of International Importance in 1986, this refuge has been beset with attempts by a foreign-owned company to de-list it from protected status in order to build a road that would bisect this wilderness. This seizure of public land has been prevented thanks to the work of many partners, thus avoiding setting a dangerous precedent for the opening of all wildlife refuges, national monuments, wilderness areas, and other public lands to economic development. However, if corporate interests remain, I fear that the threat will persist.

I spent my high school years helping my dad put his Townsend, Montana, ranch into a conservation easement. Every weekend, we planted shelter belts, cleared brush piles, reduced noxious weeds, and eventually watched the wetlands we constructed mature and flourish as a result of more balanced management.

Watching change like this firsthand has showed me what is possible if we bring folks of diverse backgrounds and upbringings together to be good stewards of our private and public lands.

 

Do you know someone In the Arenawho should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

Kristyn Brady

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August 8, 2019

In the Arena: Doug Duren

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

Doug Duren

Hometown: Cazenovia, Wisconsin
Occupation: Site and land management consultant and contractor; part-time manager of a 400-acre family farm
Conservation credentials: Helped raise $5,500 and led the effort to provide six dumpsters for the proper disposal of deer bones and carcasses to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in southwest Wisconsin. This kept an estimated 1,400 carcasses from being moved or disposed of in areas where CWD could infect other deer.
Conservation motto: “It’s not ours. It’s just our turn.”

Doug Duren has some stories, and you may have even heard a few. He’s a MeatEater podcast regular and good friend of Steven Rinella, but he’s also a lifelong conservationist who has lived closer to the land than many of us can say. In his neck of the woods, chronic wasting disease prevalence has been growing steadily, and Duren is concerned about the role that hunters are playing in the spread of this always-fatal deer disease.

That’s why he spearheaded a project with Hunt to Eat to raise enough funding to place six deer carcass disposal dumpsters across the region for the duration of the 2018 hunting season. (The brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, and spleen of a deer are the parts most likely to hold the prions responsible for CWD, and bringing carcasses home, to a deer processor, or left in a traditional gut pile could pass the disease on.)

We’re proud to showcase Duren’s incredible work and conservation ethos. Here’s his story.

The person who introduced me to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors was my father, Vincent Duren. But, growing up in Wisconsin farm country, outdoor activities of all sorts were just a part of our lives.

Cazenovia is built around an 80-acre mill pond where all the local kids swam and fished. The hilly terrain of the Driftless Area is filled with trout streams and the farms are a mix of fields, wetlands, and woodlands. So, in the late 1960s and 70s, when I was a kid, my friends and I spent much of our time—after our farm chores were done, that is—exploring, fishing, and hunting this area.

These days, if I could hunt or fish anywhere, I wouldn’t have to go very far. I still love the Driftless Area of the Midwest and all the hunting and fishing opportunities it has to offer. My family has lived in this very special place for five generations, and I feel very fortunate to spend my days working and hunting in this part of the world.

Honestly, it’s enough for me.

Up Close with a Grizzly

But I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lot of memories wherever I find myself in the outdoors. I’ll tell you about a recent one. First, it’s important to note that I’ve known Steve Rinella for a decade or so now, and he and I have become pretty good friends who hunt and fish together fairly often—both on and off camera. I’ve made a lot of friends through Steve and the folks on his crew are some of my favorite people in the world.

Recently, Steve asked me to go on an Alaska caribou hunting trip that would be filmed. I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were joined on the trip by some of my favorite guys from the MeatEater crew: Janis Putelis, Chris Gill, Garrett Smith, and Brody Henderson. Also joining us on the trip was Mark Kenyon, a fellow Midwestern whitetail hunter.

And it turned out to be a series of amazing experiences: Driving through some amazing country. Pushing the weight limit of a Super Cub (much to the chagrin of the pilot.) Landing on what seemed like a postage-stamp-sized area in the alpine tundra. Seeing and being close to more than 5,000 caribou—never mind harvesting one of those amazing animals. The meals, the camaraderie, the incredible vistas, and even the weather couldn’t be beat.

The most amazing part of the trip for me was the encounter we had with a boar grizzly bear. It was the first evening, and we were all setting up camp, prepping gear for the next day, and settling in. Janis was looking for a good water source and was some distance away. Suddenly, I heard him yell, “Grizz!” from across the ridge, and we all stopped what we’re doing to look. Sure enough, there was a light-colored grizzly working its way up a ravine near our camp, eating blueberries “like he was angry at them,” as Steve says.

Photo by Garret Smith/@dirtmyth.

Steve and I walked over to the edge of the ravine with our binoculars to get a better look, and I was just dumbfounded by the beauty of it all. We were traded guesses at its age while tracking the bear as it worked its way up the ravine. Soon, I realized Steve was no longer at my side. A minute later was back with his .300 WinMag over his shoulder.

I said, “Well, clearly I’m in good hands, because I would have stood here like a dummy and watched that bear until he was on top of me.” Steve smiled and said we’d watch him a little bit more, but “we’ll have to let him know he’s not welcome here soon. If he wants to, he can cover the distance between us in a few seconds.”

We made some noise and tried to look as large as we could, to which the bear just stood up, regarded us with no expression, and then slowly wandered off. Even if nothing else happened on that trip, I would have gone home happy. The memory makes me smile with wonder and awe.

A Conservation Legacy

Conservation, too, has been part of my life as far back as I can remember. My family was in the timber and sawmill business for three generations, and the forest on our family farm has been sustainably managed for even longer than that.

I took a couple years off from college and worked for a reforestation company, traveling around with a bunch of other gypsies and hand-planting trees throughout the South. I went for the adventure, but that experience really showed me how important conservation was, no matter what I did or where I lived.

I also taught high school for a number of years in northern New Hampshire, where I worked on a trail maintenance crew in the White Mountains during the summers. The work was hard, the people were incredible, and I spent a lot of time in and caring for access to places that are awe inspiring.

I’ve worked in land management for nearly 30 years now, and conservation is one of the key elements and considerations in everything I do. There is such joy in it.

It’s from this perspective and with all this experience that I say chronic wasting disease is the biggest conservation challenge where I live. There are other concerns, like water quality, resource protections, and access issues, but nothing is as bigger crisis than CWD.

So, in 2018, the Adopt-a-Dumpster Program was born out of a need for proper deer carcass disposal in the CWD Endemic Area of southwest Wisconsin. The intent was to mitigate the spread of CWD by providing dumpster locations around the area where hunters could properly dispose of deer bones and carcasses, thus removing possible infected deer parts from the landscape. And in some cases, dumpsters were located at CWD testing locations.

Six dumpsters were fully funded for the 2018 hunting season, with partial funding provided for three other locations run and monitored by two organizations and one business. Throughout the season, we collected more than 39 tons’ worth of carcasses, and we learned valuable lessons that could help this effort expand.

We saw that our Adopt-a-Dumpster Program and other Adopt-a-Kiosk programs, because they involve and empower hunters and landowners, provide an opportunity for discussion and education about CWD and proper carcass disposal. This kind of interaction and advocacy is invaluable, especially as some efforts to control CWD get twisted to look like a loss of hunting rights.

Some areas were unable to secure a dumpster because there was not a solid waste provider in the region who was willing to take deer carcasses as part of their services or to their landfill. It would help if the Wisconsin State Legislature considered legislation requiring licensed landfills to accept and properly dispose of deer carcasses. Lawmakers could also allocate funding specifically for the disposal effort. A voluntary check-off box on deer license applications could be another source of dedicated funding for disposal.

Hunters will likely continue to support this kind of effort. And it follows that organizations and businesses concerned about the health of the deer herd or the future of hunting should get involved, too.

 

Do you know someone In the Arenawho should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

Kristyn Brady

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July 26, 2019

In the Arena: Zane Zaubi

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

Zane Zaubi

Hometown: Springfield, Illinois
Occupation: Real estate manager and developer at Horizons Land Development
Conservation credentials: Advocates for Farm Bill conservation programs and is currently enrolled in the Voluntary Access Program to give Illinois sportsmen more opportunities to hunt and fish on private land.

We love to see young people able to make the connection between conservation and the eventual harvest, whether it’s a big buck down or a lunker on the line. And this has been a way of life for Zane Zaubi since he was a kid. No wonder he is vocal about his support for conservation programs in the Farm Bill, sweeping legislation that he says, “affects everyone in our society, whether they know it or not.”

Here’s his story.

I was lucky enough to be born into a family that has always shared a passion for all things related to the great outdoors. My father and both of my grandfathers were avid hunters and anglers, and it didn’t take long for me and my brother to follow suit.

But, from a young age, I also learned the importance of managing habitat and protecting the health of our local gamebird and deer populations. We’ve always hunted throughout the fall and then worked the rest of the year to ensure each season is better than the last.

My idea of a dream hunt has never changed from the time I was ten years old—I’d want to float, fish, and hunt moose along as many Alaskan rivers as possible. One day!

But the truth is, as much as I enjoy traveling and chasing different species around the country, I am a home body. What I enjoy most is creating what I believe to be the ideal whitetail habitat on our own farms and enjoying the fruit of that labor. There is just something special about working with my dad to develop a multi-year plan and having that all come together one November evening.

I’ve been an active participant in Farm Bill conservation programs and an advocate for improving these programs because, truthfully, the Farm Bill affects everyone in our society, whether they know it our not.

This is especially true for sportsmen. Over 90 percent of the state of Illinois is privately owned, which limits opportunity for those who share a passion for being outdoors. The Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program is the only federal program that creates access for public hunting and fishing on private land. The bill also enables landowners to create habitat that has become scarce in farm country, like grasslands that suit pheasants and quail.

The Farm Bill essentially works to ensure that as sportsmen we will continue to be able the share the experiences that we have had with generations to come. Passing the 2018 bill with some boosts to conservation was a major win, but our work isn’t done.

As we work to implement the 2018 Farm Bill, I think it is an important to continue to grow the number of acres that we allot to the Conservation Reserve Program. While I wholeheartedly believe in largescale agriculture, I also believe in a balance. Programs like CRP allow for buffers from our water systems and field separations to alleviate soil erosion, all while creating habitat for our favorite species.

As someone who works the land to shape the health of our deer herd, I think there’s a huge opportunity to benefit wildlife and sportsmen if we have better access to these programs and funding.

Do you know someone In the Arenawho should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: In the Arena

June 19, 2019

In the Arena: Neil Sunday

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

Neil Sunday

Hometown: New Cumberland, Pennsylvania
Occupation: Flyfishing guide for Relentless Fly Fishing, a TCO Fly Shop employee, and snowboarding coach for USA Olympic athlete A.J. Muss
Conservation credentials: Board member for Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited

Neil Sunday’s “Gram” probably didn’t realize she was creating a lifelong sportsman and fishing devotee when she purchased his first fishing rod at a local hardware store. These days, he’s something of a reformed bass fisherman, dedicated to helping people get out on the water for south-central PA’s brown, rainbow, and brook trout.

Here is his story.

I can still remember the trip to the hardware store in Mechanicsburg, Pa., where my grandmother bought me a Shakespeare spinning rod. Trindle Spring Run was quite demanding for a six-year-old, so I spent a few summers with very few fish stories! That all changed when I moved to Dillsburg and hit the farm ponds and Yellow Breeches Creek near Williams Grove.

When I was older, I took up flyfishing after a few years of tournament bass fishing on the Susquehanna River. I realized the impact we were having on the smallmouth bass populations and thought that something had to change. So, I gave away most of my traditional rods and reels and taught myself how to fly cast—I haven’t looked back.

I have so many good memories of fishing, and I’m making more every day. One of my most incredible days on the water was shared with my wife, Lori, and a good friend, Captain Scott Irvine, in Key West. We left the docks before sunrise, and after a 45-minute skiff ride we powered down the boat. In the distance, as far as we could see, fish were rolling on the surface.

We had over two hours of sight casting to feeding tarpon! By 9:30 a.m., we were doing celebratory shots of tequila. We spent the rest of the day chasing permit and hunting bonefish in the pristine environment of the Marquesas.

If I could fish anywhere, I would like to go back to New Zealand. Their focus on protecting the environment is evident. The people and government understand the importance of conserving what they have, and the fish happen to be the benefactors of this effort.

The overall conservation ethic is something I wish we had more of here in our great country.

As a fishing guide in South-Central Pennsylvania, my office is on the famous waterways of the Cumberland Valley. Without clean water, we would not have the wild brown trout of the LeTort Spring Run, the wild rainbow trout and native brook trout of Big Spring in Newville, or the dynamic trout factory known as the Yellow Breeches.

In fact, without clean water, I’d have to go get a “real” job.

Streamside // Neil Sunday from Mathew Stambaugh on Vimeo.

In my time as a Board member of the Cumberland Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, I have taken a keen interest in our Stream Access and Conservation Committee. Once a tract of land has been used and a waterway altered, it’s very hard to restore. As a committee member, I’m part of a team that goes to great lengths to have restoration projects approved by state agencies, landowners, and other stakeholders.

Right now, one of the biggest conservation challenges where I live, and for our country, perhaps, is that people don’t prioritize responsible building practices, development, and land-use management over financial gain. Conservation should be used as a preventative measure—it is the easiest way to keep what we have for future generations.

Do you know someone In the Arenawho should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

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The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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