Habitat & Conservation  |  02/24/2023

The Conservation Sandbox


Pressing Outdoor Topics Shared by Prolific Leaders at National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic

By: Jared Wiklund, PR Manager

Wrapping up an incredible weekend at National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Minneapolis, I was given the distinct honor of moderating Sunday’s “State of Conservation” panel featuring the nation’s most prolific conservation group and agency CEO’s from across the United States.

The panel included: Marilyn Vetter, PF & QF; Howard Vincent, PF & QF; Land Tawney, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers; Ben Jones, Ruffed Grouse Society; Ted Koch, North American Grouse Partnership; Steve Williams, Wildlife Management Institute; Whit Fosburgh, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Ron Regan, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 

In just the last handful of years, it’s worth noting that conservation groups have engaged in what I would describe as unprecedented, mutual support for many of the urgent conservation issues, policies, and programs that sportsmen and sportswomen are directly impacted by. Furthermore, our work together in the “conservation sandbox,” fueled by members and volunteers, is helping create a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren featuring abundant habitat, plentiful wildlife, clean water, and access to the outdoors. 

As we look back on the important milestones that conservation groups have successfully reached in partnership – a terrific example is passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, a historic bill permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year for public lands – it’s also important to have perspective on conservation challenges and opportunities Americans are currently facing.

The following is an abbreviated list of topics shared by our CEO panel which sportsmen and sportswomen may draw inspiration from. 

Bison Restoration: Once on the brink of extinction, CEO’s discussed the incredible success story playing out for bison restoration in the United States and what’s to come. Once upon a time, wild turkeys, elk, whitetail deer, and geese were at the tipping point of extrication as well, but efforts via sportsmen, Tribal leaders, wildlife representatives, and government officials have helped restore these iconic species in North America. The American bison once roamed much of North American continent in herds so vast they boggled the mind. We have a great opportunity in front of us. Achieving it would put the finishing touch on the restoration of North American wildlife, the hunting opportunities that accompany it, and symbolize a partnership with Tribal Nations.

Corner Crossing: Across the nation, ambiguities around the legality of accessing public lands at adjoining corners (popularly known as “corner crossing”) prevent sportsmen and women from setting foot on significant portions of our public estate. Access to quality habitat on public lands is critical to sustaining our hunting heritage. As such, it's imperative that hunters fight for access and defend our public trust when necessary. Our panel of CEO’s discussed the current events unfolding in Wyoming, potential ramifications for public land hunters, and the step’s being taken to ensure public access remains in place.

Grouse Conservation: CEO’s Ben Jones and Ted Koch touched on forest grouse, prairie grouse, and the ongoing conservation efforts surrounding these species. Climate policy at present and in the future have massive potential for positive implications of both forest grouse and prairie grouse management. Ruffed grouse are currently listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 19 State Wildlife Action Plans, and state endangered in Indiana. Likewise, ~50 percent of America’s wild prairie grouse are either extinct or listed under the ESA, with the other 50 percent trending that direction. So, what’s the answer? Habitat. The 2023 Farm Bill, the recently introduced North American Grasslands Conservation Act, and other policies can play a critical role in providing a bright future for these birds – conservation groups and the collective voice of members are helping lead.

R3 (Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation): Several of our panel guests pointed to hunter (AKA license buyers) numbers and the declining trend as particularly alarming. The challenge is getting people outside to appreciate natural resources, so nature remains relevant in a technological society. At the same time, agencies and conservation groups need to continually evolve to generate conservation advocates and supporters even if they don’t hunt/trap/shoot. By addressing both sides of the equation, America will be able to replace the current generation of outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen who are aging out. 

Other pertinent topics covered in the hourlong session included:

  • RETURN Act: Legislation that would repeal the federal excise tax on rifles, shotguns and ammunition, as well as reduce similar taxes on archery and fishing equipment, which has been set aside for conservation, wildlife management, hunter education and construction of facilities for sportsmen, such as boat ramps and shooting ranges.
  • Walk-in Access: Maintaining and strengthening funding for VPA-HIP (Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program) in the Farm Bill is critical for providing access to hunters and anglers in the United States
  • One Health: A new approach gaining traction that recognizes the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. 
  • Policy Issues: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, and other legislative issues have big implications for outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen. These represent once-in-a-lifetime infusions of funding for on the ground conservation projects – the groups represented on the panel and their membership play a key role in delivering projects with this funding. 

Jared Wiklund serves as the Public Relations Manager for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever on a national scale and is the current secretary and banquet chair of Washington County Pheasants Forever. A diehard upland bird hunter, Jared can be found following his Labrador retriever and English pointer throughout the fall while pursuing pheasants, quail, grouse, and waterfowl. He is also an avid big game hunter who enjoys the pursuit of elk, whitetails, mule deer, and black bears.