Lessons from Shane Mahoney

February 20, 2013 by  

By Nick Simonson

This weekend, while attending the 30th Annual Pheasant Fest event in Minneapolis, I had the privilege to hear a speech from renowned conservationist Shane Mahoney. For nearly an hour I sat on the edge of my chair, lost in the deep and poignant voice emanating from the bearded figure at the front of the room.  Half of the time I was fighting back tears and the other half I was lost in thoughts which led me out of the room after the presentation galvanized to continue on, carrying the mantle of conservation.

Pheasant Fest

Pheasants Forever held its Pheasant Fest in Minneapolis, MN

Mahoney’s three-part message was resounding and clear: we need wildlife and wild places to remind us of our past and our humanity, the hunting, fishing and outdoors opportunities we have now must be guarded or they will be taken away – one way or the other – and bearing that mantle is a continuous and sometimes tiring process, but it is always worth it.  The latter, he stressed must not be forgotten while we campaign in an era of energy and food demands and the ever-expanding human footprint.
“Why do people in Texas have fireplaces?  Why do we put our bedrooms on the second floor of our houses?  Why do we have phobias for heights and spiders and snakes, but none for cars?” Mahoney asked these questions to us slowly and deliberately; giving our minds a couple of seconds after each question to figure out the answer.  It is because our need to light our surroundings was far more important than warming; our fear of ground-based predators left us longing for a safe place above them, and trepidation of those things which 10, 20 and 30 thousands years which represented certain death lingers with us, long after we have left the darkness our ancestors lived in and we have seemingly have forgotten our past in favor of progress.
He spoke of those caves in Spain where early man painted the images of the longhorned bison and other beasts in their world with such accuracy that archaeologists and biologists were able to identify species and even subspecies which went extinct millennia ago.  Some of the paintings were in openings only three feet high and hundreds of feet below the surface.  They were found in total darkness, which with the tools at the time meant that the artists would only have a few moments of illumination from a small flame in animal fat to paint a tiny portion of the herd which eventually spanned the entire rock ceiling.
That unbelievable effort was evidence of the reverence, honor and importance of those animals to the artists.  Mahoney recognized the same effort of conservation groups like Pheasants Forever and its members, along with many others throughout the country and the world.  And it is our efforts, our reverence for animals and wild places, which must persist in order to fight for wildlife, for hunting and for fishing, or they would be taken away – through habitat loss, through disuse, or many other real threats.
The passing of tradition, the preservation of clean waters and promotion of diverse biotic communities, huntable populations of wildlife and open fields are required in order to maintain generations of stewards who revere the land and the life forms which are so important to us – not only as sportsmen, but as members of a greater humanity.  But the efforts of getting children into the outdoors, of getting people to listen to the need for conservation, are not easy to maintain, but those efforts are far more justifiable than any number of the excuses we can make for not doing so.
There’s a need for food and energy, a government divided, a thousand other issues and a ten thousand more excuses why conservation should not be at the forefront of our efforts.  But none of those excuses stopped people like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and the conservationists who followed in their footsteps in times much more dire than these.  During wars which threatened human existence and a ten-year depression which made the most recent recession look like a tea party, these common leaders found ways – sometimes in just a matter of months – to call public attention to preservation of mountains, prairies, streams and lakes and all the animals that call them home, and make conservation a priority, because the natural world and all of its creatures are important to all of us.
The presentation left me astounded, sobered and readied for the year of challenges that lay between this year’s annual Pheasants Forever meeting and the next, knowing that whether I was hanging posters for my chapter’s upcoming banquet or helping a young person shoot a clay target or cast to a rising bluegill, my efforts were worth it.  And it was worth it to protect these free wild animals and their homes and pass the tradition on to others who would do the same.
I encourage you to find the speeches of Shane Mahoney on YouTube, and don’t miss out on a chance to hear him in person.  I am certain you too will come away with a changed perspective and a renewed sense of purpose to take with you…into our outdoors.


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