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.
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: 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.