The Chipmunk and the Conservation Calling
EVERYTHING IS BIGGER IN TEXAS.
At least that’s what I was taught growing up in the Lone Star State.
Driving through the steep, winding roads in the Trinity-Klamath National Forest, however, made me realize that statement must have excluded trees.
The towering firs in Northern California dwarfed anything I had seen back home and were truly a sight to behold.
As I came around a particularly tricky bend, a chipmunk crossed the road.
In this grand setting the little rodent seemed miniscule, but my eyes focused on its gorgeous striped pattern. I admired the quick scurry across the gravely path, and something awakened inside of me.
This period of my life was a dark one. Things seemed fine on the surface. However inside, hope was dim as issues of family and career created a void I was starting to fill with…well…darkness.
This was a trip for me to simply get away and explore the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Although I had already encountered blacktail deer, black bears and found a mountain lion scratching post on an old cedar, the chipmunk left me speechless.
As a very young boy I kept a collection of old outdoors magazines that must have included 100 or more copies of Texas Parks & Wildlife.
On the back cover of one was a gray-footed chipmunk, Texas’s only variety. It’s found in the barren, arid lands of the Trans Pecos region, far from the swamps that surround my hometown of Orange.
Memories of that photo came rushing back, and for a moment I felt like that boy again.
This was the boy who in fourth grade was assigned to do a project on what we wanted to become as adults. He (I) wrote, “A wildlife biologist or zoo keeper” and that I wanted to “save endangered species.”
It was hard to hold back tears, but I did my best and soldiered on and continued to take in the scenery.
Fast forward 14 years, and I found myself holding a Siberian chipmunk at the Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center, the facility founded by me and my wife Lisa.
I was showing it to a group of kids. I was sharing with them the intricacies of its life in the brutally cold northern Asian winter.
As I explained how they gather and store food, that feeling came back. It was the feeling I felt when I saw its California cousin cross the road so many years back.
At this point, my life had radically changed for the better, so this renewed feeling wasn’t expelling depression. It brought a new level of enthusiasm.
Problems like loss of habitat, disease and poaching seem insurmountable because we look right past the simple for the complex. We ignore the obvious and seek out the grand, the politically charged and the sensational.
I knew in this moment, holding “Britanny” our chipmunk ambassador, that I was called to conserve and so were these kids I had the privilege to teach.
Conservation is a term bantered about in many circles, but rarely ever is it described as a “calling.”
I believe that’s exactly what it is.
As you take this wild journey with me, I believe you will see the same thing. Wildlife in much of the world is facing greater threats than at any point in history. We have an incredible opportunity to step up and make a real difference.
I mentioned earlier that in fourth grade I wanted to be a zookeeper or help endangered species. In seventh grade I did my science project on the role of hunting in deer management and how the modern sport hunting community are the leaders in American wildlife conservation. That kind of zeal and enthusiasm for wildlife as well as fisheries conservation is still very much alive in me and is something you will see more frequently on these pages and at fishgame.com.
You still might wonder why a chipmunk of all things had such an impact on me.
Yes, there was the magazine cover.
Sure, they are gorgeous and found only in areas of Texas I do not frequent, but there’s more.
The chipmunk represents the little things we miss in a culture obsessed with size, as we’re engaged in endless sophistry.
It also represents nature at its purest and the fact we can easily miss the greatest things and grandest opportunities if we don’t look close enough.
It represents our calling.
A Teen Poaching Crisis
Chester Moore reports that in the past three years, the level of disregard for wildlife evidenced by a marked increase in poaching by teenagers has shaken him more than anything in his 25-year career as an outdoors journalist.
Email Chester Moore at email@example.com