You just published your 16th book, “How Sportsmen Saved the World.” Give us a little insight into how you became interested in the topic of sportsmen and the contributions they provide for the conservation community?
I grew up in an outdoor family, and since then I’ve been a hunter, angler, writer, photographer, hunting guide, dog trainer, bush pilot and naturalist. I have been heavily involved in the outdoors all my life and have long felt dismayed about the rift between the hunting and non-hunting segments of the wildlife advocacy community. Hunters distrust “environmentalists” because of the fear, real or perceived, that these groups seek to abolish or restrict outdoor sporting activities. Conservation groups not composed of hunters frequently disparage hunting on grounds that have no basis in scientific or historical fact. All groups concerned with the preservation of wildlife and wild places should be able to work together to combat the real enemy — the threat to wild habitat by irresponsible development. I hope that by objectively documenting the incredible contributions hunters and anglers have made to the preservation of wildlife and wild places I would help unite the conservation community.
In your book you write about significant advancements in American history for which sportsmen are responsible; can you give us an example of one such achievement?
Biologists estimate that at the time of first European contact, America’s bison population included nearly 50 million animals. By the late 1800s, commercial market hunting and habitat loss had reduced that number to some two-dozen animals hanging on in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park. As editor of Forest and Stream, one of the country’s first “hook-and-bullet” magazines, George Bird Grinnell became a remarkably effective champion of the bison. Grinnell editorialized relentlessly, lobbied Congress to protect the animals and the park and formed alliances with influential politicians — including a young Theodore Roosevelt. Without Grinnell’s effort, the American bison would have disappeared.
How did you get involved with the TRCP?
Several years ago, I received an invitation from the late Jim Range to attend the annual TRCP media summit at his Montana ranch. I made an amazing number of new friends at that event and went away highly impressed with the caliber of the TRCP leadership. I recognized our shared philosophical framework and saw that the TRCP has the cachet to function effectively in the political environment just as Grinnell and Roosevelt did during the early days of conservation.
What led you to your career in conservation?
It became obvious to me that our society’s default position is not set to benefit wildlife and wilderness. If we are to offer our children and grandchildren the opportunity to enjoy the hunting and fishing traditions we’ve had, we need to be proactive, in the tradition of Grinnell, Roosevelt and all the other heroes of conservation profiled in my latest book.
What do you think are the most important conservation issues facing sportsmen today?
While huge global threats such as climate change and an exploding human population may make all other concerns irrelevant, I prefer to stay focused on issues closer to hand. Unless our country makes radical changes soon, our lack of a cogent energy policy is going to lead to a desperate push to exploit our last remaining reserves of domestic fossil fuels without regard to wildlife, wilderness or environmental constraint. If you care about preserving our hunting and fishing traditions, take action now.
Pick up E. Donnall Thomas Jr.’s latest book, “How Sportsmen Saved the World.