From Orion founder Jim Posewitz:
A HERITAGE LIKE NO OTHER
In 1885 a cowboy looking for open range grazing opportunity rode from Little Missouri, North Dakota to the base of Rocky Mountains and back. It was a journey of a thousand miles across America’s Northern Plains. Upon his return he told a young Dakota rancher and hunter, Theodore Roosevelt (TR), “I was never out of sight of a dead buffalo and never in sight of a live one.” It was a dramatic moment in a nation without a conservation ethic. A French nobleman, Alexis de Tocquville studying “Democracy in America” earlier observed we were “insensible to the wonders of nature.” To be sure, the pine forests of the lake states and a wildlife resource once described as something that “exceeded anything the eye of man had ever looked upon,” lay in ruins.
There were some who saw the unfolding tragedy. In 1858, the year of TR’s birth, Concorde naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Why should not we have our national preserves … in which the bear and panther, and …the hunter … may… not be civilized off the face of the earth.” Thoreau’s vision was described as “a mere whisper in the popular conscience.” When TR the hunter/conservationist became our president forty-two years later that whisper became a roar as he and associates endowed America with 230 million acres of national forests, wildlife refuges, game ranges, parks and monuments. It was 9.9 percent of America held for the restoration of wildlife. Perhaps more important, it was done for “the average man and average woman who make up the body of the American people” that we might all enjoy “the sturdy pleasure of the chase.”
It was not an easy road. When the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drove our continent to its knees Franklin Roosevelt called the First North American Wildlife Conference. He told the assembled sportsmen and that this was their fight to win or loose. The challenge was accepted and today we are blessed with a new wild abundance from sea to shining sea. This endowment, passed to our custody, is a heritage like no other. This history of restoration, conservation and sharing through a little more than a century stands as living testimony to the common man’s power to change what exists.
We are again challenged, the economic times are not easy and the earth itself needs attention. The good news is that as hunters and anglers we have been here before, we have the “model” that works. A century and a half ago, Thoreau worried about saving a place for the hunter in civilization. Today, the conservation ethic those hunters brought to our culture, holds the answer to saving an environment capable of sustaining civilization.