Jim Posewitz, executive director of Orion: The Hunters' Institute, is a passionate spokesman for hunting and a scholar of American conservation history. He is also something of a preacher to the congregation of hunters.
His trilogy, Beyond Fair Chase, Inherit the Hunt and Rifle in Hand, has become a key component of hunter education programs across the country, teaching young sportsmen and women that hunting is more than just blasting away at four-legged or feathered creatures.
Posewitz urges the hunting public to think about North America's wildlife and how it came to thrive despite over-hunting in the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution, and the rampant development of today.
"Here in North America things are different," Posewitz writes in Inherit the Hunt. "Here, at the close of the twentieth century, a very common hunter can still feel a physical and a spiritual linkage to a Stone Age hunter who left an arrow point on the shoulders of a Montana mountain."
Nathaniel Hoffman met up with Posewitz after a talk he gave at Boise State University earlier this year. The interview cut into Posewitz's planned walk along the Boise River. And his beer time.
HIGH COUNTRY NEWS: You write about how generations of American hunters took responsibility for bringing back America's wildlife. How is hunting still relevant today?
JIM POSEWITZ: Well, it's important because it was at the core of how our culture got this conservation ethic. It was passed through our society by virtue of the presence of these people who value these things.
One of the things (Aldo Leopold) said was that this idea of conservation is a matter of perception. And wanderlust and trigger itch are merely the raw materials out of which perception is built. ... When a guy goes afield and aspires to be a hunter, you're looking at the world in a very different fashion. You are walking beyond the trails. You're walking into the habitat, the environment. You know you're going to a certain place. ... and you start viewing the landscape with a level of intensity that is higher than if you are merely in a tour bus going by, awestruck by the grandeur of the place. ...You are no longer exclusively a supermarket-sustained voyeur. You are a participant. And if you live in places like Idaho and Montana, that can be 80 percent of your red-meat intake in a year.
In the process of getting there, you look at a lot of marks in the snow and the mud, and you look at nips off of twigs and branches, and it all means something to you. And when those components fall apart, you're the first to know that the animal is not there anymore - and that's why the hunter was so important ...
HCN: If the notion of saving the land and forests for their own sake didn't turn Americans into conservationists, what did? Was it just the perseverance of Teddy Roosevelt?
POSEWITZ: No, the thing that did it is embedded in so many people like him and like myself and like all kinds of other people in our society: This desire to engage, this desire to participate in the natural process. But that's kind of in the species. ... When Roosevelt starts creating these opportunities for restoration, gets the commercial people out of it, the immediate action was to throw up protected places: The refuges, the parks. They lobby Congress to send the army into Yellowstone to keep the poachers from taking the very last of it. And succeed. And then ultimately he sets aside 9.9 percent of America and then brings all the governors into Washington in 1908 when he's leaving the presidency, and lectures them on the need to create natural resource agencies or wildlife protection agencies.
HCN: A lot of colleges and universities have an environmental track and a natural resources track. Are those paths diametrically opposed?
POSEWITZ: Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir got along fine. ... Roosevelt writes, "To the extent that some of this made some good economic sense, some of it was simply for the beauty of life and the joy of living because we were not to be a nation without these assets and without these resources."
HCN: But, ideologically, these are different ways into conservation. You talk about hunter conservationists and you talk about a land conservationist. What common ground have hunters and environmentalists found?
POSEWITZ: The one common ground is ... you have to start putting protective arms around the environment, the habitat, the land that produces this stuff. The hunter has ... been doing that from the start. We understood that. And that wetland that produced the duck that we wanted, well, that great blue heron, he lives out there, too, and that muskrat lives there, and there's some frogs out there and some toads. And while we don't swoon over that reality, we are plumb aware of it and you know, you can't produce the animal without strengthening the ecosystem that produces him.