I wrote (and photographed) this for the Washington chapter of the Nature Conservancy last year. This event is coming up again soon, and we need it more than ever. The proposed federal budget for 2018 cuts billions in funding for conservation, climate, and scientific study in general. This sort of program – generating bipartisan, urban-rural, hunter-conservationist engagement – is a great example of how we are stronger together.
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Everyone who loves the outdoors interacts with it in different ways. Some of us go out to shoot with cameras; some of us, to shoot with rifles. Some shoot wildflowers and landscapes, some shoot animals, and some shoot glass bottles. All these activities intersect on the Beezley Hills preserve in Eastern Washington. By day, Beezley Hills is an expansive steppe; the sprawling sagebrush reaching to the sky in all directions, dry ground under foot. In the spring, it’s home to dozens of wildflower species – balsamroots bowing their golden heads in the breeze, sprinkled with the purple of phlox and shooting star, followed by lupine and camas. In the fall, home to a hunting tradition that precedes the preserve’s TNC days.
Several times a year, local hunters are provided the opportunity to learn more about the preserve, and the chance to take care of it – in exchange, they get hunting rights on the land. When we’ve seen what kind of conflict can arise from “othering” in states like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, a project like The Nature Conservancy’s Hunter Steward program is heartening. It shows us that there are environmentalists, and there are hunters, and there are both. Conservation is as simple as that: people who love the land take care of it, no matter how they use it.
So, on a warm sunny Saturday in April, you might find a few of these dedicated stewards, bags in hand, picking up everything from broken glass bottles and beer cans, to burn piles and even car frames. Hopping out of their pickup in between clean-up sites every time they see a bit of roadside litter. Finding hidden treasures among the trash – a marble, a usable car part, a coin. Every once in a while, standing up to take in the never-ending sky, or the mountains, or the perfume of sagebrush. It’s all in a day’s work on the Beezley Hills preserve.
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Here’s the original post on the Nature Conservancy’s website: http://www.washingtonnature.org/fieldnotes/2016/4/12/hunters-become-stewards-at-beezley-hills