By Daniel Xu
This interview with Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane 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.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is unique among sportsmen’s groups and you are as likely to find its supporters in the rooms and halls of our capitols at the state and federal level as in the field. Founded in 1989, the CSF has always focused its fight for sportsmen’s rights in the political sphere.
“Our mission is to work with Congress, governors, and state legislators to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping,” current CSF president Jeff Crane told me.
Jeff said that the role that CSF plays may not be as focused as the “on the ground” level of conservation as some other organizations, but it is no less vital.
“We work in the political arena, and unlike some of our great partners in the conservation community, that’s all we do. We do this through our unique network of congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses and we’re the only organization to have these direct links to elected officials,” Jeff shared. “If you think about it, the old adage about the pen being mightier than the sword sometimes holds true. What can be done detrimentally or positively by lawmakers can dramatically affect things like access, traditional hunting ammunition or fishing tackle, the right to pursue certain game animals, and habitat decisions. Lawmakers are hugely instrumental in determining the landscape that all of us are able to access.”
The influence wielded by CSF should not be underestimated. Since it was founded 25 years ago, CSF has grown its bipartisan Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus to nearly 300 members, making it one of the largest and most proactive caucuses in Congress. CSF’s Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus counts 28 state chief executives among its number, and over 2,000 state lawmakers are part of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses. CSF works to ensure that advances are made to benefit sportsmen and women as well as the habitat that North America’s wildlife depends upon.
“We can seem a little behind the scenes but our work is every bit as important because one stroke of a pen can turn everything around,” Jeff said. “Drawing upon our unique role in working with these caucuses, our responsibility is to make sure we’re working with legislators and governors across the board. We’re two blocks from the US Capitol so I spend a fair amount of time going up there to hold meetings with members of Congress on all number of issues.”
While delving into the political world may make some people uncomfortable, it is a field that Jeff feels at ease with. He has been working with and inside Congress since he graduated college, and save for a stint in Africa as a professional hunting guide, Jeff has long called Washington, DC his second home.
“In my case, to bring my experience in the political arena to my passion as an outdoorsman, it’s a perfect fit for me.”
As a matter of fact, it was politics that sent Jeff to Africa.
“The one thread throughout everything I’ve done in my professional career usually comes back to the political arena,” he said. “I actually found myself in Africa working on the transition when Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa. I only became a hunting guide when I was living there, which was a lifelong dream of mine.”
Certainly, leading hunts in Africa would be envy of many outdoorsmen. Even Theodore Roosevelt—widely considered one of the most influential conservationists in American history—touted his African expedition one of the pivotal events of his life. However, much has changed in the century since Roosevelt visited the continent, especially when it comes to wildlife. The African and North American models of conservation are drastically different—notably because the latter has been much more successful.
“One of the biggest aspects of it is just the whole concept of wildlife ownership,” Jeff explained. “The North American model of conservation is predicated on restoring and safeguarding wildlife populations for the betterment of the nation. In the African countries—especially South Africa—a lot of wildlife is behind fences and property of the land owner. It is fundamentally different in that way alone. Then you overlay the extremely unique American System of Conservation Funding, which is the “user-pays, public-benefits” concept where we as hunters and anglers pay for 80 to 90 percent of the nation’s wildlife management through excise taxes, license fees, and the like. We are the financial backbone of this American System and nowhere else in the world is there a similar system. It is dramatically different in the way that wildlife is managed.”
Being a professional hunter was Jeff’s dream, but he soon found himself thinking more about coming home. As the father of three young children, Jeff and his wife decided that they would have more opportunities in the United States. They moved back in 2000. Two years later, Jeff joined CSF.
Coming home, Jeff knew he wanted to get back into politics, but this time he entered the fray as a sportsman. The CSF president said that while he never thought of it that way, his career in conservation began in Africa. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation was a natural fit for Jeff. The organization offered him a role where his political experience would be invaluable, and where he can help safeguard sportsmen’s rights. For hunters, anglers, and recreational shooting enthusiasts, the threat from new proposed regulations is ever-present.
“The CSF was founded 25 years ago by members of Congress who recognized that there were direct threats in the form of legislation backed by the antis, and there was no formal organization on the capitol to deal with these issues,” Jeff said. “They immediately set out and formed this group. They recognized that it had to be effective and it had to be bipartisan.”
For 25 years, the CSF has striven to be the sportsmen’s champion in the nation’s capital, advocating for issues like increased funding for wetland conservation, reforming refuge priorities, and increasing access for hunters and anglers.
“I don’t think there’s been an anti-sportsmen agenda driven through US Congress in the last 20 years,” Jeff said proudly towards the end of our conversation. “That is largely as a result of this caucus and the antis recognizing that there is a formidable organization ready to roll out.”
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?