In the 1930’s, Jay Norwood Darling, the force behind the Federal Wildlife Restoration Program, was touring the country urging sportsmen and women to unite in order to protect local habitats and the future of outdoor sports. A small group of foresighted New Hampshire sportsmen heeded this call and the New Hampshire Wildlife Federation (NHWF) was born, founded in 1933 as the Federated Sportsmen’s Club of New Hampshire.
Shortly thereafter, a national movement of all the state groups that started under Darling met in Washington DC and in 1963 became affiliated with the new National Wildlife Federation (NWF). NHWF remained affiliated with the NWF until 2005, when policy differences led to the NHWF disaffiliating from the NWF. The name of the organization was changed to the New Hampshire Wildlife Federation sometime in the early 1970’s. NHWF was organized as a 501(c)4 non-profit organization at that time, but became a 501(c)3 in 2001.
The mission of the New Hampshire Wildlife Federation has been revised several times over the years. The current mission reads:
“To be the leading advocate for the promotion and protection of hunting, fishing and trapping as well as the conservation of, and access to, fish and wildlife habitats….”
NHWF is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of 15 Directors, 4 Officers (President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary), and the Immediate Past President.
Affiliated clubs and organizations are entitled to two voting delegates and two alternates. It is these delegates and the Board of Directors who set policies for NHWF. The Board of Directors has fiduciary responsibilities and the obligation to carry out established policy. The Board of Directors is responsible for the hiring and supervision of the executive director.
Prior to 1980, NHWF was strictly a volunteer organization with varying numbers of active members and often times limited effectiveness in adequately representing the many concerns of New Hampshire’s sportsmen and women in many circumstances.
Beginning in 1980, under the new direction and leadership of Bob Carlson, President of the N.H. Trapper’s Association, the Federation began a major transformation.
At that time the New Hampshire Trappers were under constant threats from well funded and highly motivated anti-trapping organizations who undertook numerous anti-trapping legislative efforts year after year. During this same time period, The President of Manchester Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Tom Decoster, was leading the opposition in a public struggle with New Hampshire Hydro Associates who announced on April 8, 1980 that they were planning to build a new 28 foot dam across the Merrimack River at Moore’s Falls, 10 miles downstream of Manchester, N.H. despite the fact that a major federal and state Atlantic Salmon and anadromous (Sea run) fish restoration project was just getting started. Additional Hydro projects were also being proposed in subsequent years. At Bob’s suggestion, Tom Immediately joined in Bob’s massive Federation revitalization efforts.
Shortly thereafter Bob Carlson succeeded Sam Demeritt as President of the Federation. Subsequently Bob and Tom Decoster, provided thousands of hours of volunteer leadership and vision necessary to recruit many other new leaders from sporting clubs around the state. These many additional dedicated leaders rose to the challenge.
The countless hours of highly dedicated planning, effort, and execution by the revitalized Board and new Federation Officers transformed a previously small group of concerned sportsmen into a politically effective statewide powerhouse. One dynamic outcome of this effort was the attainment of approximately 8,000 new dues paying members.
Another transforming result spearheaded by Bob Carlson was the creation of the Federation’s own newspaper beginning in March 1981. (A copy of which was delivered to every elected member of the House and Senate as well as to the Governor’s office and Executive Counsel members).
Bob Carlson also spearheaded the risky first $10,000 banquet prize in order to raise funding for operating overhead expenses created by the new quarterly newsletter and to hire paid staff to help with the staggering workload resulting from all of the combined new activities. Long time active member Joe Ezyk saved the first such banquet from failure by selling almost half of the 100 tickets all by himself. The Banquet continues to this day and an annual award is given in Joe’s name every year in recognition of the true spirit and achievement embodied in conservation activist efforts.
Additional accomplishments since those years has been writing the legislation that established the moose management program and moose hunt, creating public access legislation that has been the only success in providing public access to the state’s water, insisting that game and fishing seasons be set by the professional managers at the Fish and Game Department, not by the whims of the Legislature, allowing sporting clubs a voice in the selection of Fish and Game Commissioners, and keeping fish and game funds secure in the department and not siphoned to the general fund of the state. NHWF was also a key player in the establishment of the Non-Game and Endangered Wildlife division at Fish and Game and helped provide the initial funding for that program. NHWF has played an important role in establishing the new Land and Community Heritage Commission.
Other programs NHWF helped establish include Operation Game Thief (now under the Fish and Game Department) and Becoming An Outdoors Woman. NHWF co-sponsored the North Country Legislative Tour for six years, established the Hides for Habitat Program (no longer running. Please contact the New Hampshire Trappers Association), and helped distribute 3,500 National Wildlife Week kits to every third, fourth and fifth grade classroom in the state. NHWF publishes a quarterly newspaper, New Hampshire Wildlife, and maintains a web presence.
NHWF works closely with the NH Fish and Game Department and helps sponsor many programs such as Project Wild, Becoming An Outdoors Woman and Wild Game Culinary Adventure. As an independent organization, NHWF is often in a position to be vocal and act as an advocate for department issues when the department, as a state government department, cannot speak out.
New Hampshire Wildlife Trust was established as a 501(c)3 organization when the NHWF was still a 501(c)4. The Trust is the educational arm of the Federation, where our special grant-funded projects have been financially accounted for in the past, as well as other programs. The Trust does not have any employees or members. The NHWF Executive Committee serves as the Board of Trustees of the NH Wildlife Trust.
(Editor’s note: The history of NHWF has been revised and updated with the assistance of Tom Decoster who was on the Board of Directors and later Vice President and President during the time NHWF underwent its major transformation in the early 1980’s. It is still a work in progress and we welcome any further input from current or former members.)