James Earl Kennamer Ph.D. serves as the chief conservation officer of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Kennamer has spent nearly three decades at the helm of the NWTF’s conservation programs department. Before coming to the NWTF, Kennamer was a tenured professor of wildlife biology at Auburn University. In 2006, Kennamer was awarded the highly coveted Henry S. Mosby award at the ninth National Wild Turkey Symposium; in 2005, he was honored with the Wildlife Management Institute’s Distinguished Service Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the South Carolina chapter of The Wildlife Society; and in 2004, he received special recognition from the U.S. Forest Service. In 1997, he received the C.W. Watson Award, the highest honor to be bestowed by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society and Southeastern Section of The Wildlife Society for Distinguished Service in Wildlife Research and Administration. Also in 1997, he received the President’s Award from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Q: How did you get into hunting and fishing?
My father took me on a dove hunt when I was 6 years old. That was soon after he returned from World War II. My father was the extension fish and wildlife specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service from 1946 until 1974, so I grew up with a great appreciation for our natural resources.
Q: What led you to a career in conservation?
In 1954, when I was 12, my father took me turkey hunting at the Ft. Benning Military Reservation. I really appreciated the beauty of watching the turkey strutting back and forth, thanks to the respect and love of nature my father had instilled in me. I walked away from that memorable hunt knowing I wanted a career that provided me with the opportunity to work with wild turkeys. It’s not often that a 12 year old is able to say with certainty what they feel they are called to do in life and then carry it through. I was fortunate enough to recognize my passion and then chart a course that would allow me to realize my dream. During the nearly 30 years I’ve worked at the National Wild Turkey Federation, I’ve not only been able to help restore wild turkey populations across North America but I’ve also helped forge partnerships between hunters and wildlife agencies, corporations and conservation groups and advocate conservation issues that are important to the NWTF’s dedicated volunteers and members. My son Lee also realized he wanted a career working with wildlife and followed my and my father’s path by earning a degree in wildlife from Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. I’m proud to have a third generation of wildlife biologists in my family. But I’m mainly honored to have passed on a love and respect for the outdoors to my children and grandchildren.
Q: How did you get involved with the TRCP?
I met Tom Franklin when he was the policy director at The Wildlife Society. Since then, I’ve had opportunities to work with Tom and others on issues that would benefit conservation, the TRCP and the NWTF. Working together on these issues forged lasting relationships, and I have a great amount of respect for Tom and all he has accomplished in his career.
Q: What do you think the most important conservation issues facing sportsmen are today?
Sportsmen are facing many significant challenges today, but one of the most important is our need to preserve our hunting heritage. If we don’t instill the love of hunting and conservation in our children and grandchildren and introduce new people to the outdoors, there will be no hunters and conservationists to care for our natural resources in the future. The NWTF works through its JAKES, Women in the Outdoors and Wheelin’ Sportsmen outreach programs to introduce youth, women and people with disabilities to outdoor activities. Another challenge hunters face is finding land to hunt. Studies have shown that the No. 1 reason hunters give up their sport is because they don’t have access to hunting land. Since we know that hunters were the first and are the most dedicated conservationists, we must work to protect hunter access to public lands as well as focus on ways in which we can address the declining base of hunters through promotion and hunter retention. The NWTF’s More Places to Hunt initiative is one way we are working to help hunters find land to hunt. The economy also has presented some significant challenges, but the new Farm Bill, plus energy development and climate change legislation, will create opportunities for conservation organizations to complete some great projects that will benefit wildlife and our natural resources.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of the TRCP?
I hope the TRCP will continue to partner with organizations in the conservation community to conserve our natural resources and protect our hunting heritage for future generations.