Madison – Wisconsin has had an inordinate number of conservation
leaders over the years, and that tradition continues today.
Two current Wisconsinites, Jeff Nania, of Portage, and George
Meyer, of Madison, have been named to the Outdoor Life 25, an
awards program sponsored by the national outdoors magazine that
recognizes people who have changed the face of hunting and fishing
in the country.
Each year the magazine profiles 25 leaders, innovators,
conservationists, and unsung heroes who have had a positive
influence on the outdoor sports. They join such names honored last
year as Dick and Jim Cabela, Ray Scott, Gary Loomis, and Dr. James
Nania and Meyer are no strangers to the halls of the state
Capitol and DNR headquarters in Madison, where they testify at
hearings and prod legislators and bureaucrats to do the right thing
for natural resources. Both are passionate about Wisconsin’s
The 55-year-old Nania is a native of Madison who serves as the
executive director of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, while
also retaining the responsibilities of WWA projects director for
the past 15 years.
Nania is being recognized by Outdoor Life for getting kids
involved in natural resources through the River Crossing Charter
School in Portage, and for his wetland restoration work.
“There was no question whether the school would work because we
have a great teacher, a great public/private partnership, and a
goal to give these kids an outdoor experience that they will not
only remember, but they will value,” Nania said.
The school is a partnership between the Portage School District
and WWA, with many agencies including the DNR, U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and others
“The ultimate goal is to develop new leaders of conservation for
the next generation,” Nania said.
He realizes that outdoor experiences compete now with many
activities, but believes kids must be given the chance to make
decisions for themselves. They must try different things, and for
some, conservation will be the perfect fit.
Why does Nania do it? “I believe so strongly that the health of
our human population is tied to the health of our environment,” he
said. “And, our hunting, fishing, and trapping traditions are good,
healthy activities. The bottom line is that if you don’t make good
decisions about things, you don’t know about.”
Nania said some day the front page of every newspaper won’t be
about oil or the stock market, but instead about water. Water will
become the most valuable commodity on earth.
Nania admits he wants the kids to have fun and perpetuate the
state’s hunting traditions. He is proud that every student in River
Crossing Charter School goes through hunter safety training. Some
may never hunt, but they all go through the course.
He counters the assertion that government will be in charge of
recruitment of new hunters, anglers, and trappers.
“The people who are responsible for this are those people who
hunt, fish, and trap now,” he said. “We have to make a commitment
to involve as many people in our sports as we can. That is the
solution to hunter recruitment.”
Nania said it is no longer acceptable to just complain.
“Government is run by those who show up. If you don’t want to
show up, you take what you get,” he said.
Dale Arenz, WWA president, said he’s “proud of Jeff and the job
he is doing for our organization, especially recruiting children
into hunting and working with the Legislature and improving
wetlands. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”
The 61-year-old Meyer, a native of New Holstein, is the
executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. He worked
as an attorney for the DNR, became its enforcement administrator,
and then served as DNR secretary from 1993 to 2001.
After retirement, he taught for two years at Lawrence University
and has been executive director of the WWF for the past five
He has built WWF up to now represent more than 161 hunting,
fishing, and trapping groups advocating for strong conservation
policies and conservation education.
Meyer is being recognized by Outdoor Life for his work on behalf
of sportsmen and women with the state Legislature and Natural
Resources Board, advocating for Stewardship renewal, access to
public lands, the Great Lakes Compact, cleaning up ballast water,
and protecting the segregated funds provided by sportsmen.
He has raised the status of the federation.
“It was a natural fit because I’d always had tremendous respect
for WWF,” Meyer said. “They were an organization that looked at the
big picture and did not get bogged down in small regulations, but
looked at broad habitat and access issues, and working to protect
hunters’, anglers’, and trappers’ rights. Everything that I’m doing
now is based on their direction, and they provide the strength for
me to get the job done.”
Meyer and WWF have an agreement with the DNR to operate the
DNR’s MacKenzie Environmental Center near Poynette. The DNR is the
landlord and WWF operates the facility, from maintaining the
grounds to teaching school kids who visit.
Meyer and Nania both spent hours supporting renewal of the
Stewardship program to assure that wherever reasonable, the land
was open for recreational uses including hunting, fishing, and
“If it had not been for hunting and conservation groups in this
state, Stewardship would not have passed,” Meyer said. “What got
the Assembly interested in this was the push for hunting, fishing,
and trapping access. That got those in the Assembly who were not
interested on board.”
Meyer brought together fishing communities with others
interested in the Great Lakes Compact and believes it overwhelmed
He has appeared before the Natural Resources Board several times
to push the DNR to take aggressive steps on invasive species
brought in via ballast water. “Sportsmen understand the devastating
impact that invasive species have had on the fisheries of the Great
Lakes,” he said.
Meyer will be working on three areas in the future. The most
important, he said, is restoration of the independence of the DNR
secretary. There were enough votes in favor last year, but the
Assembly would not bring it to the floor for a vote.
“We got to the 10-yard line last year and now we will push it
over,” he said.
The issue of youth hunting, fishing, and trapping skills is a
major focus and WWF is asking for 50 cents to be added to all
hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses and that money be set aside
for one purpose: to go to conservation groups to increase hands-on
skills programs for hunting, fishing, and trapping.
Meyer suspects there will be a need for more funding in the Fish
and Wildlife Account, and WWF wants to see any future hunting,
fishing, and trapping license increases matched dollar for dollar
from another source that is not paid by hunters, anglers, and
“People have been talking about alternative funding for more
than 10 years now, and it is time to do something about it,” Meyer