Conservation groups take interest in women, and vice versa

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 11, 2013 - 2:11 PM

Pheasants Forever added two females to its board, a shift "essential for the continuation of traditional sports," one said.

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Toting a shotgun and trailing her pointing dogs, Nancy Anisfield is in her element hunting ruffed grouse, woodcock, pheasants and other game birds.

"That's my passion," she said.

She's also a photographer, outdoor writer and former commercial illustrator and English teacher.

And a trailblazer.

Anisfield, 59, of Vermont, is one of three women on Pheasant Forever's 17-member board of directors -- the largest female contingent since the Minnesota-based national conservation group was launched here in 1982.

Their presence reflects not only women's increased interest in the outdoors but a growing interest in them by natural resource agencies and conservation groups, which have seen the percentage of hunters in the population decline over time.

Women are a mostly untapped source of new hunters, anglers and conservationists.

"They like bird dogs, walking through grasslands, the thrill of the hunt, eating wild game and interacting with family -- the exact same motivation that we [males] have," said Bob St. Pierre, PF's vice president of marketing. "But we haven't sold it to them the same way."

Anisfield and Shefali Mehta of St. Paul were elected to the PF board last fall, joining Diane Lueck of Friendship, Wis., as the only females.

All bring something different to the board.

Mehta, 33, is a research and development strategy manager at Syngenta, a global agricultural firm. She has a Ph.D in agricultural economics.

She doesn't hunt, but she said: "I have a deep passion for conservation. It's something I've dedicated my life to -- conserving wildlife and ecosystems and ensuring that we take care of our lands."

The challenges are great.

"There are more demands on the land and for food," Mehta said. "We'll have 9 billion people to feed by 2050. We're trying to balance that and conserve wildlife and keep ecosystems intact for future generations. I personally believe we can do both. But it will take some creative thinking."

The 58-year-old Lueck, a board member since 2006, is a life member of PF, an avid hunter, a lecturer in natural resources and biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and the former director of the Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program. She said despite ominous threats facing wildlife habitat today, she remains optimistic because of an infusion of youth -- including girls -- into the conservation community through several PF programs.

"They will be breathing life into the organization," she said. "They are the potential conservation leaders of the future."

Anisfield said all three women, despite their different experiences, are committed to the same thing: wildlife habitat.

"It's absolutely clear that hunters are the conservationists, putting their energy, passion and dollars to protecting habitat," she said. "And we have to continue getting women involved; it's essential for the continuation of traditional sports. Not just because they'll bring their children along and we'll get more youths involved, but because the more people who participate means more conservation."

About 3 percent of PF's 125,000 members are female, St. Pierre said, though that may not accurately reflect membership.

"Eighteen percent of our Facebook fans are female," St. Pierre said. "We think more women are reading our publication and are going to our banquets, but they tend to put the membership in the husband's name."

Anisfield said she believes it's important to have women -- and people from around the nation -- on the PF's board.

"I travel all over the country to hunt, so I feel it's very important to support conservation and habitat initiatives in areas other than my own backyard," she said.

She took up hunting after she got married.

"My husband [Terry Wilson, who owns the Ugly Dog Hunting Company] was a deer and duck hunter," she said. "When I saw pointing dogs, that's when I got hooked. I know a lot of women who got into hunting because of dogs."

She has two German shorthaired pointers; he has three German wirehaired pointers.

"We're primarily northeast grouse and woodcock hunters, but every year we travel to hunt pheasants, quail, sharptails, ptarmigan and chukars."

Anisfield, Mehta and Lueck will be at National Pheasant Fest, the three-day celebration next weekend in Minneapolis. The PF board will hold one of its three annual meetings.

"They make sure we have a broad vision in how we deliver the mission, and they make sure we're fiscally responsible," St. Pierre said.

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