Friday, May 25, 2018
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Matt Markey

OUTDOORS

New conservation group aims to go big on education

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    We Are Outdoors, Inc.

  • We-Are-Outdoors

    We Are Outdoors, Inc.

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We-Are-Outdoors

We Are Outdoors, Inc. Enlarge

When a small group of longtime crusaders for wildlife and conservation makes the decision to fine-tune their efforts and form a hybrid organization that will provide optimal environmental education programs, there is no reason to choose a name that goes low-key.

With that foundation at the start, it makes sense to skip the soft sell and just go big. And “We Are Outdoors, Inc.” is an appropriate title when the mission statement mentions “enhancing the general outdoor literacy of our community.” They plan to tackle that sizable undertaking.

Lou Best, Wynn Brinker, and Don Schooner were the driving forces behind the Wood-Lucas Pheasants Forever chapter for a quarter of a century. In that period, they played key roles in plowing more than $300,000 into wildlife habitat in Wood and Lucas counties, and also developed the organization’s first mentored youth hunts. The trio intricately was involved in the wide range of Pheasants Forever work and in the Leopold Education Project that PF had in its portfolio at the time.

The link to Leopold will be the cornerstone of the new group’s efforts. Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, educator, forester, writer, and passionate outdoors enthusiast who is regarded by many as the father of wildlife ecology. Leopold was a tireless promoter of the principle of “land ethic” — an inseparable bond between man and nature.

The Iowa native was a 1909 graduate of the Yale Forest School who initially worked for the U.S. Forest Service before serving as a professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin. Leopold also was an early leader in the Boone and Crockett Club, a wildlife conservation organization co-founded by Theodore Roosevelt.

In his writings, Leopold laid out the critical importance of our moral responsibility to nature and the world around us. “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect,” Leopold wrote.

Leopold was committed to “awakening the ecological conscience” in everyone. His detailed and philosophical approach to conservation and the community of man, along with our soil, waters, plants, and animals, provides the building blocks for the work “We Are Outdoors” plans to undertake.

“We are definitely focusing on the education aspect,” Best said. Along with Brinker and Schooner, Best has attended multiple workshops in Wisconsin that have laid out the Leopold approach.

“We are big believers in the Leopold Education Project,” said Best, referring to the interdisciplinary environmental education curriculum that focuses on middle school and high school students, but also can be modified for virtually any group. “As we’ve developed our ideas, we felt like we needed to do more in terms of showing people exactly what to do. We want to reach as many as we can.”

“We Are Outdoors” will conduct its first fund-raising banquet Feb. 24 at Glass City Boardwalk in Moline. The doors open at 5 p.m., with a steak dinner served at 6:45 p.m. and numerous raffles throughout the evening. Tickets are $35, with a discount for the purchase of a table of eight. Call Best at 419-304-1368 for tickets and more information.

“I think people will see that we are more a pure conservation group — everything we do is about getting people involved in the land,” Best said. “We can offer advice on planting trees and grasses, and we have a lot of experience and wisdom in that area, but that type of work won’t be our highest priority. A lot of very positive outcomes are the result of having a very strong land ethic, so that will be our focus.”

Best said the new group, which includes Kim Kaseman and Mark Mason who serve as officers, plans to provide a bridge between what could be viewed as two distinct cultures — the traditional outdoorsmen group and the naturalist/environmentalist group.

“There are so many common interests and common goals, so we hope to both support and receive support from each group,” he said. “Based on our experience with Leopold and Pheasants Forever programs, we think people will see that the similarities between these two groups are much greater than the differences.”

He sees birders and anglers, hikers and hunters, as well as the broad group of folks who just enjoy the outdoors, as making up the core of the participants in the “We Are Outdoors” educational opportunities and experiences.

“Essentially, you can’t have a good hunter ethic without a good land ethic. These philosophies are increasingly relevant today,” Best said. “This organization is a little different, since we don’t have a particular species attached to it, but that is by design.”

He said the group intends to appeal to everyone and share something its core members are passionate about: The stewardship of everything around us.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com, or 419-724-6068.

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