I am rarely at a loss for words. I might not be tall like Ben Roethlisberger nor quite as handsome as Robert Redford but I sure can talk. Some would say I was vaccinated with a phonograph needle but one thing is for sure, foot-in-mouth disease belongs solely to the talker. When it comes to speaking, however, I am in a rut I invariably start out with the same question: What American was awarded the Noble Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor?
Of course, it was Theodore Roosevelt, for negotiating peace between Japan and Russia and his famous charge up San Juan Hill. Among the presidents, one could say that this outdoorsman completed a whirlwind of accomplishments during his term. Just the other day, Chet Krcil and I were discussing Roosevelt, how this man did more for the outdoor enthusiast than any other. It was Roosevelt who saw the value in saving bits of land for the benefit of those that would come later. State parks, state forests and wildlife sanctuaries owe a debt of thanks to this visionary man. He encouraged the wise use of our wildlife while managing to keep his friends in industry satisfied.
While born in a wealthy family, Roosevelt alienated many of his family’s peers, broke monopolies in business and introduced labor laws that he put in place to protect poor and rich workers alike. When the stress of the pre-presidency got heavy, Roosevelt sought therapy in the wilds of the Dakotas as he pursued the antelope or mule deer. Can one imagine the shock of having today’s president disappear into the darkness of deepest Africa?
Maybe Roosevelt was the greatest hunter of all. Selby or Bell might have downed more African game than Roosevelt, maybe they shot rings around him as one only has to read “African Game Trails” to know Teddy missed now and then, but do we reach a point where we have to look at the overall picture and ask if being a crack shot is more important than what a man accomplishes in the aid of another man or for all of wildlife? I place the hunter Roosevelt so high for what he did for the future of the outdoor activities.
Hoover fished but Roosevelt faced the charge of more than one lion and Rhino. He stood his ground, much like he did when facing Americas’ enemies, and carried that famous big stick of his.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Roosevelt was probably our first conservationist. Oh, there were persons such as John Muir, who believed that nature should be protected from man and not touched. On the other side of that, the conservationist believes in the wise use of our natural resources. Use but don’t abuse is a good example of the beliefs of the conservationist. Take a tree but don’t take them all and restore where one was taken.
The hunter and angler of today can thank Roosevelt and his friends for the hunting we have. Do we appreciate it? Do each of us who love the natural world do our bit?
Here in Pennsylvania, we are fortunate that the hunters, led by the Game Commission, have set aside a million and a half acres of ground using the hunters’ money. I stress that it’s the hunter who foots this bill, for the use of all persons for various outdoor activities without the worry of trespass. But now we find others wanting this land and holding the Game Commission hostage by not allowing a raise in the license fee. The Game Commission was created in such a manner that it was free from control of the politicians. Like many other things, the circling buzzards have found a loophole in the law and find they have control over any license fee increase.
Nobody wants to pay more for anything but a hunting license is one of life’s biggest bargains. Try going to a restaurant for a good meal and see what that costs. As Krcil reminded me, a ballgame ticket can easily run over a $100. Now, for that $21 hunting license, a person can go hunting almost every day of the year.
Sadly, the hunting group is a silent group. Meanwhile, the opposition would gladly see the commission of both fish and game go broke, then they can take the land we paid for and improve it with a fast-food place and maybe even a racetrack. Let’s get real and demand that politicians remove their prejudices and allow a raise in hunting and fishing license fees. It’s time to move forward and allow these commissions to do their jobs.
George Block writes a Sunday outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.