Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow

How McGraw is Helping to Re-Weave The Fabric of America’s Hunting Heritage

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”                                       Benjamin Franklin

It was as an instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1970s when Dick McCabe first became concerned about a gradual change among students interested in conservation careers. Where it once was a sure bet that said students had likely been reared working fields and farms every summer and hunting hedgerows, woods and wetlands each fall, the odds seemed to be turning the other way.

Increasingly, many members of this new student body came from urban upbringing where forays afield were more likely to involve backpacking, biking or birding than hunting or fishing. Nothing wrong with that, but without a hunting and angling perspective, they were viewing, albeit unknowingly, an ecological web of life with a few silken strands awry.

McCabe left his university post to join the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) in 1977, but took his concerns about the future of conservation education with him to Washington, D.C. He refused to concede that the changes were inexorable.  What to do about them was something else again.

Read about the new McGraws Center for Conservation Leadership

He was not alone with his vexation.  State and Federal Fish and Wildlife agency leaders experienced crops of smart, highly educated young men and women entering the field having never hefted, much less fired, a shotgun. Never mind that the majority of their salaries were often paid by consumptive users of wildlife.  McCabe and his peers which, by this time included the licensees and leadership of McGraw, worried that an environmental equation without hunting as part of the calculation would not only lead to false conclusions, but one that could, long term, have a deleterious impact on hunting and hunters.

Now fast forward to 2004 and a landscape-changing- confluence of thought, concern and desire between the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and WMI.  McCabe had witnessed the implementation of university level hunter education programs, mostly notably one at his graduate school and teaching alma mater the University of Wisconsin, begun in the mid-1990s.

Turned out, McCabe and Charlie Potter shared a mutual concern about the future of sport hunting and the need for the otherwise uninitiated students of wildlife biology to understand hunting’s role in conservation (Potter, a number of McGraw licensees and McCabe had the same concern over fishing, but, first things first, they reasoned).

A Potter-McCabe meeting at McGraw turned out to be propitious.

The pair believed they could develop a program, national in scope and local in implementation.  McCabe committed himself and WMI to do much of the organization while McGraw established itself as the major funder and the epicenter of the strategy and the workshops. Such joint partnership brought, and continues to engender, significant credibility to the initiative. Moving with alacrity, McCabe studied the Wisconsin model, picked the brains of his peers, be they academicians, field biologists or federal and state conservation leaders, and developed an outline.

“We decided early on,” says McCabe, “that the purpose of the program would not be to turn non-hunters into hunters. We wanted them to understand the important role hunters and hunting plays in their chosen field.  And we wanted, especially, to influence them, wherever possible, early in their studies or careers.”

The program became known as the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow( and was piloted in 2005 with workshops that October and November at McGraw with students from Penn State and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“We planned for the first two years as shakedown cruises,” says McCabe.  “The first year, 39 students graduated, the next year 32.  And we drove them pretty hard.  The hours were long, 10 to 13 each day, and the instruction, both hands on and classroom, intense.”  During the workshops the students, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, were told, taught and involved. Their days involved everything from white-boarding to pheasant hunting.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the concentrated curriculum, responses to post workshop surveys were all positive and some darn near ebullient.  “We succeeded,” says McCabe, “beyond our wildest ambitions.”

Still, McCabe kept his ear to the ground and with fellow instructors and leaders sought constantly to tinker, tailor and improve the program.

It became quickly evident that the success of CLfT would hinge on locus and resources (both monetary and human).

“We added a great deal of rigor to instructor selection,” says McCabe.  “They had to have been hunters for a good part of their lives, experienced communicators and teachers and, no less important, absolutely passionate conservationists.”  The number with that mettle would soon grow to 125.

Because of the commitment that CLfT students, their universities or their agencies, not be charged for their travel to or room and board at the training, McCabe sought to identify locations around the country that would be reasonably accessible geographically to students.

“Ours is a boot-string budget,” McCabe says.  “So we are constantly looking at ways to be as cost efficient as possible.

“The program owes its existence and success to the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation.  CLfT has the full support of the board and that takes a big concern off the table.”

CLfT now involves participation from more than 40 Universities and 20 government agencies. The program operates 12 workshops annually at 7 facilities nationwide.

“CLfT is unique,” says Potter. “It is a chance make certain that hunting remains a part of sound wildlife management thinking.  And that it remains a vital part of our heritage as Americans.

“Max McGraw was the kind of man who embraced change.  But, given his druthers, he always sought to lead it.  And leading change is what CLfT is designed to do.”

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