|Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Wisconsin||Gary J. Wege
The crisp, refreshing outdoors of Wisconsin has been in my blood since I was a girl. It was an integral part of my life growing up. But I didnt fully realize the rich conservation history and ethic of my home state until I went to college.
Many people hesitate when a new acquaintance asks, Where are you from? Such people think twice before naming their university town or the most recent place they have lived. Not me. There is no uncertainty. For me, its easy. I promptly and proudly say, Im from LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
I know how lucky I am to have been raised in such a great placenot only because of the citys remarkable sense of community, but also because of the areas absolute natural beauty. LaCrosse is nestled among the bluffs where three great riversthe Black, the LaCrosse and the Mississippi converge on Wisconsins west coast. And LaCrosse is situated on the longest river refuge in the Lower 48 states, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
Whether I was playing in our backyard, attending summer camp, camping with my family or fishing with my dad, the outdoors was an important part of my childhood.
Hunting and fishing wereand still arebonding experiences for our whole family. Typically, we would go out on Lake Onalaska to catch bluegill. It could be on open water or ice fishing. In summer, my mom would come along for the boat ride, or read while the rest of us fished. It was together time. And, by the way, Dad makes the best bluegill fish tacos in the world.
He and my two brothers are avid hunters, tooduck, turkey, deer. Every Christmas, they give one another hunting and fishing gear. Whether the gifts are deer cams, duck decoys or turkey calls, the three of them tend to geek out over them while Mom and I goodnaturedly look on.
Dad instilled in all of us kids a healthy respect for and love of the outdoors. While our family regularly hunted and fished near the refuge, Dad taught us that the refuge itself was and is a sanctuary, a place where wildlife is safe and protected.
It wasnt until I moved a few hours southeast to Madison to study at the University of Wisconsin, though, that I began to truly appreciate the considerable conservation heritage of my home state. There I learned, of course, about Aldo Leopold, a professor at the University Wisconsin in the 1930s and 40s who formed the schools wildlife management program, wrote A Sand County Almanac and became the father of the land ethic. I learned, too, about Gaylord Nelson and John Muir. Nelson, a former governor and U.S. senator who grew up in Clear Lake, WI, was the principal founder of Earth Day. Muir, the legendary conservationist who founded the Sierra Club, was born in Scotland but immigrated with his family at age 11 to Portage, WI, where he spent his formative years before attending the University of Wisconsin.
I cant imagine a better place to hold the Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation conference than Madison. Having the legacies of Leopold, Nelson and Muirand the invigorating outdoors of Wisconsinas backdrops makes this environmentfriendly city the perfect setting for conservationists to gather to discuss the future of our national wildlife refuges.
Everything about this conference makes me feel right at home.
Heather Jerue is a National Wildlife Refuge System Conserving the Future Fellow.