The Conservation Hawks is a new group dedicated to harnessing the power of sportsmen to address climate change. Stop. Before you give in to anger, or to the "conservation fatigue" that can fall upon us like a giant wet carpet whenever climate change is mentioned, consider this: If you can convince Conservation Hawks chairman Todd Tanner that he's wasting his time, that he does not have to worry about climate change, he will present to you his most prized possession: A Beretta Silver Pigeon 12 gauge over/under that was a gift from his wife, and has been a faithful companion on many a Montana bird hunt. I know the gun, and I've hunted and fished with Todd for years. He's not kidding. You convince him, he'll give you the gun.
Conservation Hawks has an all-star board of directors, including my friends Bill Geer and Katie McKalip, who both work for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and have a deep understanding of the issues we face as sportsmen. I talked with Todd Tanner recently about what the Conservation Hawks hope to accomplish.
Hal Herring: First, are you serious about the Beretta?
Todd Tanner: I am serious. If somebody can convince me that I don't have to worry about climate change, I'll give it them. Or I'll auction it off and donate the proceeds to the charity of their choice. But it will have to be a real argument, with real facts. I don't think that argument exists, but I'm willing to be surprised.
HH: Why the Conservation Hawks?
TT: Let's say you are walking down a trail in the wilderness with your wife and kids, and you come upon a grizzly sow, standing on a carcass. She charges, flat out. You're in front of your family. What do you do? Just give up? Pretend it's not happening? Let her maul you and everything your care about? Of course you don't. You take action. That is how I see climate change. It's real, it's threatening everything we love. Not taking action is not an option.
HH: Why now?
TT: This is the point where we can still stand up and have an effect. Maybe it's the last point. I want that freedom we've enjoyed to fish and hunt to continue. Maybe most important, I have a son. I cannot be complicit in surrendering all this that I've had and loved for my whole life--just say, sorry, I gave up and let it be taken from him. When I knew the science, and the facts.
HH: What percentage of sportsmen do you think really care anything about this issue?
TT: I'd say maybe 50 percent. But that's a tricky question. Bill Geer spent a lot of time giving presentations about the effects of climate change to sportsmen's groups around Montana. He was in Eureka, talking to a group of guys that really didn't believe the conventional take on climate change. Bill just said, "No problem, what I'm more interested in anyway is what changes have you guys witnessed, firsthand, in your lifetimes." Well, that set off the conversation, then. Everybody had a story about that. And everybody I know does, too. Because these days, it's fishermen and hunters who are the ones who notice these things. It used to be that so many more people were outdoors, nowadays it is just us. And it seems like we should be the ones to take the lead on this. We have the most at stake.
HH: What about those sportsmen who will say that this is just not a problem, or not a problem that we can do anything about?
TT: That's okay. The facts are out there, and we'll present them as best we can. But I'm not asking anybody to take my word for anything. Just observe, and believe your own eyes and observations. If you are older, think about what's changed in your lifetime. If you're younger, ask the old timers, and they'll tell you. I've been a fisherman since 1965, and a hunter since 1974, the first year it was legal for me to carry a gun in the woods. You can't fit a piece of paper between what I've seen in my life outdoors and what I know of the science of climate change. It's not about politics, or who votes for who. It's about what is real.
HH: And what about those who say this is just another excuse for more government intrusion and power?
TT: I don't think they've really thought it through. You want to talk about government intrusion, think about what it means if we don't address this now while we have the time and resources. We will lose the freedoms that we have because somebody--and it will be government--will be in an all out effort to try and address the effects. To try and address the effects of our neglect. We'll face the worst thing of all- losing our freedom. And we'll already have lost most of hunting and fishing. That's how serious I believe this is.
HH: And if somebody can convince you differently?
TT: They get my Berretta. And I'll be certainly be happier. I'll spend more time fishing and hunting with my son and a lot less time worrying about this.