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Author: Christine Cunningham

Dublin River and Le Chameau Jameson Boots

Dublin River BootsJameson BootsA new pair of shoes does not have to be a pair of luxury heels to be exhilarating. Waterproof and breathable field boots that transition well from the field to the everyday are a great gift for women hunters. My favorite are Dublin River Boots. Another classic is the Le Chameau Jameson Lady Zip GTX.  These are not a good choice for chukar hunts in sheep country, but they are a stylish option for most game fields.


Conservation’s Invisible Birds

Upland Hunter Participation in ConservationAs hunters, we often look to conservation organizations to protect and enhance hunting opportunities or address the critical habitat issues facing upland birds. Yet, many of us are not even members of the organizations we look to for support. For example, the nation’s largest quail organization recently announced its membership topped 15,000. This represents 1.8% of the country’s 841,000 quail hunters. According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, there are 1.5 million pheasant hunters and 844,000 grouse and prairie chicken hunters. Only 8% of pheasant hunters are members of Pheasants Forever, and just 1% of grouse hunters are members of the leading conservation organizations focused on the species they hunt.

In contrast, an estimated 47% of the nation’s 1.4 million duck hunters are members of Ducks Unlimited or Delta Waterfowl. In addition to membership in conservation organizations, duck hunters consider it a normal cost of doing business to purchase both a federal and state duck stamp. Since its inception in 1934, the Federal Waterfowl Stamp has raised over $800 million for conservation. Restoring wetlands and waterfowl was the single mission of a small group of sportsmen. Despite the daunting biological, political, industrial and sociocultural environments of conservation today, do upland bird hunters represent a small group of thoughtful individuals capable of reversing unprecedented decline with a singular focus on uplands and upland game?

Upland Conservation Funding

Based on the responses to Ultimate Upland’s article It’s Time for a Federal Upland Stamp, we learned that many hunters would like to see conservation organizations receive additional funds and lead the effort to reverse declining upland game populations. We followed up by asking  the various organizations involved about their programs, accomplishments, goals and challenges to provide a side by side comparison. Their complete responses are available by clicking logos below.

Pheasants Forever LogoQuail Forever LogoWoodcock Limited LogoQuail Coalition LogoNWTF LogoNBCI LogoQUWF LogoNorth American Grouse Partnership LogoRuffed Grouse Society Logo

Most of the organizations we spoke with agreed the biggest issue facing upland species today was loss of habitat. According to Pete Muller, Public Relations Specialist for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), “We lose 6,000 acres a day, with a total of the size of Yellowstone National Park each year.” The NWTF Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. is a 10-year initiative with a commitment to conserving or enhancing 4 million acres of habitat, creating 1.5 million hunters and opening access to 500,000 acres. To understand the magnitude of the losses we face, if we continue to lose habitat at the 6,000-acres-a-day rate, even if NWTF conserves 4 million of those acres, we suffer a net loss of 18 million acres of habitat over the 10-year period.

Pheasants Forever (PF) and Quail Forever Vice President of Marketing Bob St. Pierre points to the Farm Bill as the organization’s current national focus. “Through 2018, it is estimated that $24 billion will be available through the conservation title of the Farm Bill for habitat opportunities.”

Although the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) embedded in the Farm Bill provides large scale, direct and measurable benefits to wildlife and habitat, the Farm Bill is a politically-charged piece of legislation addressing food, farms and jobs and is tied to agricultural interests and commodity demands. Funds allocated for conservation in the latest Farm Bill have decreased by $4 billion over a 5-year span. If we do not fund habitat recovery with sportsmen’s dollars,  are we willing to become political activists and rely on an indirect source of government funding for upland game?

Don McKenzie, Director of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) acknowledges that, “Neither the NBCI nor any other game bird organization, initiative, institute or association has taken serious steps to address the bigger, broader need for new, larger, stable funding for upland game bird conservation at the national level.” While species-specific initiatives, such as the NBCI, Sage Grouse Initiative, and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative demonstrate new paradigms in wildlife management that epitomize the value of partnerships, if we want to see meaningful conservation outcomes for upland game, we must come together as a community and support proactive partnership over larger landscapes.

Fundraising through the banquet model is an important source of unrestricted revenue for most conservation organizations. Woodcock Limited told us, “Direct habitat work is our biggest initiative, and that comes from increasing chapters/members.” Jay Stine, Executive Director of the Quail Coalition, points to their unique model that maximizes the use of private dollars, “We minimize organizational overhead with no headquarters building, no offices, and only one contract employee.” Upland hunters are often a fractious group who focus on the differences between dogs, guns, game and methods. We come together in support of conservation for the particular species we hunt.  But, how do we overcome the distinctions between the various organizations and build trust amongst ourselves as a broader community to tackle habitat loss as a single initiative?

Upland Conservation Organization Overview

In order to create greater participation in the issues, we have to recognize that hunting as we know it is a fragile proposition.  Upland birds are often nesting in our neighboring woods and fields. They are elusive and camouflaged to their varied environments.  While we may be secure in our own access to hunting grounds, there is a national crisis involving the loss of our nation’s vast grasslands, early-successional habitats and forests along with the wild birds that rely on them that we seem content to ignore.

The accomplishments and goals of conservation organizations must be understood in the broader context of long-term population declines and a trend toward future habitat loss and degradation. If we accept the status quo we are not going to change the trajectory for upland birds. The future of the game birds we hunt and the wild places they require to survive depend on overcoming our distinctions to join a collaborative conservation partnership that crosses the sometimes controversial boundaries between states, species, organizations, and agencies.

We may believe that it happened all of a sudden when we find ourselves in fields without pheasants and mornings without the sound of bobwhite. If we see the problem clearly, we can begin to move towards changing it through our passion, commitment, and singular focus. The time is now. Where would we be today if we had taken steps toward a dedicated funding source for upland birds 20 years ago?


Making the Upland Stamp Work

Prairie Grouse - Photo by Craig ArmstrongMost of us who spend our time outdoors agree that something is going wrong for game bird species. It’s difficult to imagine the landscapes we know as no longer offering an opportunity to seek or enjoy upland birds. The steep decline experienced by many upland species  isn’t the first time in history we’ve faced the prospect of losing abundant game. The American wildlife legacy and hunting heritage might have ended toward the end of the 19th century as a number of species faced extinction due to market hunting. If it weren’t for the emergence of what came to be known as the North American Model of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, we would not have the opportunity to hunt freely or enjoy wildlife.

The North American Model followed an 1842 U.S. Supreme Court decision that decreed that wildlife belongs to the people, with opportunity for all, and not government, corporations or individuals. The Model provides for and directs the proper use and management of the wild resources for which we are all responsible as well as prohibits the harvesting of wildlife for commercial markets. When wildlife restoration efforts failed in the early 20th century, it was the united efforts of sportsmen who went to work to fund the restoration of habitat and the protection of wildlife that successfully restored wildlife across the country. It can happen again.

On March 5, 2015, Ultimate Upland introduced a petition for the Federal Upland Stamp for upland habitat conservation in the article, It’s Time for a Federal Upland Stamp. The article brought about heated discussion on what an Upland Stamp managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service would mean to hunters, how it would work, whether it would work, or why it would never work. Some do not want to pay “another cent” to conserve the habitat required to sustain upland birds. Some will only pay if there are guarantees on how the funds are spent.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, some are willing to pay such a high price that it may exclude the average hunter.

Historically, it has been those of us who hunt and shoot who have supported the cost of wildlife management. Perhaps ironic to the anti-commercial aspect of the Model, commerce in hunting has resulted in a fundamental success in wildlife restoration. The best example is Pittman-Robertson, an excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment that is returned to state wildlife agencies for projects to restore, enhance and manage wildlife. Funds may be used to acquire and manage wildlife habitats, provide public use that benefit from wildlife resources, conduct state hunters education programs, and construct, operate and manage recreational firearm shooting and archery ranges. The future of bird hunting in America may depend on a similar program brought by sportsmen who wish to make conserving upland bird habitat a priority for states by creating a dedicated source of funding.

Upland Bird Landscape - Photo by Craig ArmstrongHow Could a Federal Upland Stamp Work?

There are several reasons an Upland Stamp cannot follow the Duck Stamp model even though it replicates its pattern for success. The benefits of an Upland Stamp include an educational aspect and opportunity to highlight the cultural value of upland game species to broader audiences. But, the question asked is: How would it work when most upland game are non-migratory and are not a federal trust species? How would it work when most bird enthusiasts who would support the concept of the Upland Stamp wish for management authority to stay with the states?

The Wildlife Restoration program (Pittman-Robertson) serves as perhaps a better management framework for the Federal Upland Stamp. The Program has been a stable funding source for wildlife conservation efforts for over 75 years and provides states with matching grant funds based on the area of the State (50%) and the number of paid hunting license holders (50%). According to the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Fund Report, excise-tax collections from 1970 to 2006 averaged $251 million per year. No State can receive more than 5% or less than .5% of the total funds made available and must meet a 3 to 1 matching requirement or fund at least 25% of the project costs from a non-federal source (for every $1 spent by the State, the State receives $3 from the fund). Funds are protected and must remain available until expended, meaning that they cannot be diverted for other purposes.

If the Upland Stamp followed this model, it acts as a long-term source of dedicated funding for the conservation of upland habitat that not only preserves State management authority but encourages states to undertake projects benefiting upland game species. The funds require use for acquisition, restoration or conservation of upland bird habitat. Protections against the use of funds for any other purpose, including opposition to the taking of game  result in the same penalties as included in the Pittman-Robertson Act. The allocation methodology is based on landscape-scale habitat needs, population of bird species, or another variable that maximizes the impact of stamp funds. The matching component and period in which funds are allowed to be utilized incentivizes states to use the funding to prioritize upland bird projects.

There is little argument that our landscapes are forever changing as we face the loss of some of our most iconic game bird species with many species experiencing a 40% rate of decline in the last 40 years. Loss of habitat is the primary cause, and a solution originating from sportsmen is the best chance we have to save our upland bird heritage. Upland hunters have a unique understanding of why upland conservation must be a priority, and we have an opportunity to take responsibility for the wild resources that belong to all of us. They have been held in our trust.

Join us in calling for the creation of the Federal Upland Stamp and be a part of conservation and grassroots history by signing the petition today.

*Photos by Craig Armstrong

Fill out the online petiiton.

2015 Women’s Outdoor & Shooting Industry Dinner

Prima Outdoors at GGDIt was just 3 years ago when Britney Starr, founder of the Women’s Outdoor & Shooting Industry Dinner, attended her first SHOT Show. While there she ran into friends representing different hunting and shooting sports from all over the country. She immediately recognized the need for a coordinated event in which the growing number of female members of the outdoor community could connect with each other, and the #GunGirlDinner was born. 

The only event of its kind, the Gun Girl Dinner has grown in guests and grandeur each year, attracting women from all fields in the outdoors. Lasermax, the headlining sponsor, supported the event from day one. This year, Britney was grateful to sign on many first time sponsors, including Ultimate Upland. “We’re grateful to have Brian’s support and the support of the upland community,” Britney said. She hunts with Brian and his dogs each year in her home state of Michigan. “He’s always excited about trying to get more women into upland hunting.” 

This year’s event theme was “Birds of Feather,” and attendees were encouraged to sport feather accessories to embrace the theme. Past years have included Western and Old Hollywood Glam themes. “We thought the ‘Birds of Feather’ theme was perfect. It brought together hunting and the idea of people with similar interests spending time together. Tarra Stoddard, editor of “The American Woman Shooter,” attended for the first time this year and made many connections that she hopes will last a lifetime. “It is important to have these dinners so we as a group of women can continue to support and help the women’s industry grow,” said Tarra. 

Rachel Ahtila, winner of the 2013 Prois Award, was there representing Prima Outdoors, and agrees the Gun Girl Dinner is an “event like no other,” representing a movement that is “spreading like wildfire.” Rachel said, “The women that this event brings together are second to none. They are real women, with real stories of inspiration and passion. The success of the evening is based upon the friendships that are formed, the community it supports, and the growth to include more each year. Ultimately, that is goal for all the women and the companies they represent here at the function. We stand together and support each other.”

This year, with the enthusiasm of a committee working on the dinner, many new ideas were added. It was the first time the event included a media hour, sponsored by XS Sight Systems. “We wanted to find a way to include men and women who are involved in companies that sponsor the event or are members of the media and give them a chance to network,” said Britney. There was also a silent auction benefiting the Task Force Dagger Foundation, dedicated to providing immediate assistance to wounded, ill, injured soldiers and the families of casualties from US Army Special Operations Command. 

Kali Parmley, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Communications Specialist said, “It was an honor to be invited to a dinner where so many of the women that I look up to in the outdoor industry were gathered. There are numerous female hunters who are making waves in our industry and the dinner was a perfect way for me to meet many new ladies who share the same passions as I do. We as women are a growing group in the outdoors and seeing so many ladies gathered to celebrate that was truly inspirational.” 

 The dinner surpassed all expectations with almost 300 women in attendance. “It’s not just about networking,” Britney said. “It’s about celebrating what we have achieved together as a community and the momentum continues to build.” She’s already excited about planning next year’s event and grateful to the hard working committee who have built upon her original idea. 

For more information about the Gun Girl Dinner, contact Britney Starr at gungirldinner@gmail.com

*Photos courtesy of the extremely talented huntress and photographer Carrie Zylka. 

Birds of a Feather

Ladies of GGD

Evening of GGD

GGD Sponsor Award
Locked out of the event, Ultimate Upland founder and his lady Rio admire their award.