This interview with Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President and CEO Whit Fosburgh is part of OutdoorHub’s Leaders of Conservation series, in which we sit down with leaders of the North American conservation movement to learn more about the stories behind their organizations and people.
Theodore Roosevelt was many things. He was an author, a soldier, a politician, a hunter, an explorer, and a peacemaker. To many, he is the father of the North American model of conservation, so it is little surprise that many advocate organizations claim inspiration from the 26th President of the United States. To the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), he is more than just a namesake. For TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh, Roosevelt’s spirit and values reside in the organization that bears his name.
“I think what Theodore Roosevelt embodied was a trait: being bold, courageous, and relentless. Always putting the nation’s resources first. Those kind of values, embodied in someone who lived over 100 years ago, are our values,” Whit told me.
The TRCP was founded in 2002 by conservation leaders who felt that sportsmen and women were losing their voice in congress. Part of this problem had to do with the dwindling number of hunters and anglers serving in the nation’s capital, and a lack of those who understand conservation issues like sportsmen do. The founders of the TRCP also felt that while the modern environmental movement put into effect many beneficial changes, it was also sweeping hunters and anglers to the side. So the TRCP was founded to guarantee the rights of American hunters and anglers—and to unite the powerful conservation community into one voice.
“We’re not going to settle for crumbs any longer,” the late TRCP co-founder Jim Range said regularly.
Whit explained that the power of the TRCP is in the coalition of partners that the organization has gathered. Counted among the partnership’s ranks are Ducks Unlimited, Mule Deer Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, and many more. Together, the TRCP works to give sportsmen and women a voice in federal policy.
Hear some of those voices as Whit and other TRCP members explain more about the organization:
“If you look back to the beginning or our organization, one of the things that Jim Range realized was that we had to reach out beyond our cozy hunting and fishing community for success,” Whit said. “We had to reach out to the land trust community, had to be willing to work with the unions. I brought the Outdoor Industry Association into the partnership because those business ties are so important to conservation.”
For the past 12 years, the TRCP has been working to improve access for hunters and anglers, promoting responsible energy development in the Rockies, protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay, engaging the media, and more. Funding for wildlife agencies and conservation projects is always at the top of their list.
“Conservation funding as a part of the federal budget has gone from two and a half percent in the 1970s to less than one percent today,” Whit said with concern. “It’s now upon us to make the case that conservation is critical, not just for environmental reasons but for jobs, which is why we brought in the Outdoor Industry Association—$646 million a year is what the outdoor industry generates annually for the economy. Hunting and fishing are a big chunk of that.”
But outdoorsmen and women are not the only ones who value America’s natural resources. In an increasingly connected world, it can be difficult to map out humanity’s footprint on wildlife and their habitat.
“You can see out there today the competing pressure we have from oil and gas development, solar and wind development, or just the encroaching urban sprawl,” Whit said. “Right now our public lands are under more pressure than ever before. We as a community have to engage the public and not say we’re anti-this or anti-that, but work within those industries to ensure that things are done in a responsible way.”
Human development often fails to address the deeper needs of fish, wildlife, and those who depend on them. Something as simple as roads may have a long-lasting impact on flora and fauna, and indeed, roads were at the heart of TRCP’s early efforts. While they may make traveling much easier for people, roads can divide up wilderness areas and isolate wildlife. Safeguarding intact blocks of habitat was one of the TRCP’s founding issues. Since the organization’s inception, the TRCP has helped defend more than 60 million acres of public lands in 38 states—greatly extending the health of mobile species such as elk and deer. Now Whit is leading the TRCP to capitalize on the gains of the Farm Bill and to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.
Whit himself joined the organization in 2010. He came with a lengthy record of service in the conservation arena, including 15 years with Trout Unlimited, time as fisheries director with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and as a wildlife specialist with the National Audubon Society. He joined the TRCP at a time when the organization was still reeling from the loss of its founder and guiding hand. Jim Range passed away in 2009 after a battle with kidney cancer.
“The organization was very much in Jim’s likeness,” Whit shared. “He was such a large a figure, and when he unexpectedly died, the organization had to figure out a way to be something different—not just an embodiment of Jim. That caused some growing pains, and we had to find a balance in working with our partners, which was a challenge.”
Under Whit’s leadership, the TRCP maintained its course as one of the nation’s most respected non-profit organizations, earning a sterling four-star grade from Charity Navigator and a perfect score for accountability and transparency. According to Whit, the TRCP measures itself by the gains the partnership makes as a whole.
“We have 37 different partner organizations,” he said. “We’re successful not when we make a big splash, but when our partners are successful.”
We would like to thank Whit for taking the time to talk with us. For more profiles of leaders of conservation, please read our recent interview with Ruffed Grouse Society President and CEO John Eichinger.
Image courtesy Whit Fosburgh