Corey Mason meets with Ramsey during the “COVID Pause.” Growing up hunting with family in west Texas, he chased his passion through college, eventually becoming a waterfowl biologist for Texas, Parks and Wildlife. As Executive Director of Dallas Safari Club, Corey passionately describes to Ramsey the importance of hunting anything anywhere to wildlife conservation worldwide, how hunters from all walks of life can engage collectively to meaningfully move the needle, and why all of us hunters worldwide are in this together.
Dallas Safari Club Executive Director Corey Mason Discusses DSC’s Wildlife Conservation Roles and Pro-hunting Activities
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to another podcast of Duck Season Somewhere. I’ve got a question, for anybody listening: what is Dallas Safari Club? What is it? Why should you care what it is, if you’re a duck hunter? Anybody that’s listened to any of my previous podcasts before knows that going to convention, at Dallas Safari Club and elsewhere, is a big part of what I do. It’s a big part of my year. If you’ve been listening to our Monday episodes, some of the interviews we recorded at Dallas Safari Club with different exhibitors and key people we know— It’s just some fun conversation. Think of it as kind of the faces of Dallas Safari Club. You may have asked yourself, “What is Dallas Safari Club? Who is Dallas Safari Club, and why does it matter if I’m just a duck hunter in central Mississippi or northern California?” Today’s guest is Corey Mason. He’s the Executive Director of Dallas Safari Club. I’ve had him come on to maybe shed some light on all this for us. Corey, how are you this morning?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: I am great, Ramsey. Thanks for having me, buddy. I appreciate it.
Ramsey Russell: You bet. I’m glad to have you on. Dallas Safari Club truly is a very big part of my year and my business and my life. Real quickly, before I get into your part of it, I’ll just tell you that a really good friend of mine from Mississippi, the late Mr. Greg Kitchens—I met him in a very small show in Mississippi fifteen years ago, and we came to know each other. He became a client. I never will forget the day he told me, “Ramsey, you need to go to Dallas Safari Club.” I said, “Well, what is it?” He said, “It’s a great show. It’s a big event. You need to be there.” That put me on the path to initially coming into Dallas Safari Club as an exhibitor, but also to becoming a member and then becoming a Life Member. This past January was our tenth year as an exhibitor, and our fifth year as a life member. I’ve gained an awareness, and I’ve developed a bunch of friends. Part of going to convention is not just clients coming in to ask about going duck hunting; it’s friends, it’s clients that have been with you for ten years. People you’ve known, and friendships you’ve built. It starts out in the back parking lot with your volunteers. I’ve got Dallas Safari Club volunteer friends that I stay in touch with all year long. I always look forward to it. I skip breakfast on set-up day because I know I’m fixing to eat some barbecue for breakfast at about eight o’clock in the morning. So thank you for being here. Thank you for your time, Corey. Tell me this. Let’s start this way. Who is Corey Mason? Who are you? Where are you from? What’s your background?
Corey Mason, Executive Director, Dallas Safari Club
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: I appreciate you having me, Ramsey. Thank you for that. I’m going to kind of tee it off there with sort of, “Who am I?” I’ll start that off with: I am a Christian. I am a hunter. I am a Certified Wildlife Biologist. Father. Husband. All those attributes. I was born and raised in the southern panhandle of Texas to a farming, ranching oil family out there. Grew up behind bird dogs, chasing dove and duck and quail. Had a great influence by way of a father and grandfathers that really loved the outdoors and everything about it. That really shaped my life, in the sense of growing up with one grandfather that was a farmer and rancher. That formed in me a very strong and personal relationship with the land and the land ethic and wildlife and land stewardship. I had a hunter as a father, who’s hunted all over the world since, and I’ve had the great privilege of trailing behind him and getting to hunt in a lot of unique places. My formative career really pushed on me the desire to spend my life in wildlife conservation and to pursue that through undergraduate and graduate school. My life—and I know we’ll talk about it in more detail in a bit—has been dedicated to wildlife conservation from a very early age.
Ramsey Russell: That’s incredible. What did you grow up hunting, and when did you grow up hunting, in the southern panhandle?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Yeah. I grew up hunting quail and dove probably the most. Some of the dove hunting out there in that part of the world is some of the best anywhere. You get around a little livestock pond, an hour before dark; the doves come just pouring in, and it’s a great time. My grandfather had a farm, and still does, in Scurry County. Those that are quail hunters know that part of the state is—obviously, quail populations are up and down, as they are anywhere else—but that part of the state of Texas is known for great bobwhite quail hunting. We got to spend a lot of time behind bird dogs, out there. That was in the early ‘80s, and hunting was really good. A lot of land conversion, from large mass-producing cotton and soybean farms out there to— Started to see a transition, in that landscape, to recognizing the value of wildlife habitat and the value of those quail leases; all of a sudden, that was influencing what that landscape looked like. It’s a different world, now, than it was twenty to thirty years ago, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: And you got into wildlife management, but did you go to college for wildlife management?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: I did. I went to college in east Texas at Stephen F. Austin State University. I got a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management and a master’s in animal science and biology. On graduating with my undergraduate degree, I went to work out West—in Mexico, primarily, and far-western Texas—for an outfitter and a landowner that controlled a lot of property out there, was a big oilman. I guided hunts, for a few years, in New Mexico. I was a licensed guide for elk and deer and bear, a little bit. All that. Pronghorn. Then stayed in touch with my graduate professor and went back to graduate school, there at Stephen F. Austin, with my focus there—again, remaining pretty true to my background in lots of bird hunting—focused in graduate school on a waterfowl project, for my grad project.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. Did you hunt a lot of ducks, growing up? Did y’all shoot ducks with some of those stock tanks that you hunted doves on, too?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Those stock tanks hold huge numbers of ducks in the winter months, and we hunted waterfowl some, growing up. But waterfowl hunting became an addiction of mine more through college. Now, through my adult life. Early in my life, it was mainly dove and quail that I hunted out there.
Researched Ducks Using Texas Livestock Tanks
Ramsey Russell: What was your thesis, your graduate research, on that was specific to waterfowl?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: It was on recognizing—from sort of an observational standpoint, from Parks & Wildlife Mid-winter Waterfowl Surveys—that there appeared to be sort of a changing shift in waterfowl and wetland use, specifically. More specifically was waterfowl’s increasing use of artificially created wetlands, like livestock ponds, and large treatment of wetlands like that. My specific project was on waterfowl use of livestock ponds. We discovered and learned a whole lot about the use of those. There was a lot of speculation that the birds were using those strictly as loafing areas, which was completely incorrect. We learned in subsequent studies—it was part of multiple projects—that food availability in the livestock ponds was tremendous, and that they were satisfying many of their wintering needs for body development as well. Those birds were in great body condition. It actually, subsequently, led to changes in strategy for serving waterfowl in Texas. So it’s pretty fundamental research.
Ramsey Russell: That’s surprising to me because when I think of just the average livestock pond, I’d have said they were drinking or loafing. I wouldn’t have thought they were getting that much benefit out of it, myself.
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Yeah. What’s interesting too is, whenever you insert cattle in the system as well, all of a sudden those livestock ponds are now full of invertebrates. Those invertebrates obviously provide an important source of food for those birds, as well. So yeah, maybe they’re not loaded with traditional wetland foods like people think about for waterfowl—grains and corn and those kinds of things—but they are high in invertebrates.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. You’ve opened up a door to me, so I’ve got to ask a question. Was it primarily mallards? Was it a wide spectrum of dabblers and divers? Were there any specific species that were keying into these ponds for that, or?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Yeah, there were. I focused primarily on dabbling ducks; specifically mallards, wigeon, gadwall, and teal. There were traditional users that you see as well: scaup, ringnecks, etcetera. I focused specifically on, like I mentioned, mallard, gadwall, wigeon to some extent, but a lot of blue-winged teal as well.
Ramsey Russell: That’s some great research. I find that interesting. What next? Where’d you go from grad school, doing that kind of waterfowl research?
Worked for Texas Parks and Wildlife
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Yeah. So, it does build into a career really well. I was actually working off the Silver River, up in sort of northeast Texas, on this project covering large landscapes. Some of these livestock ponds were a half-acre, and some of them were three, four, five acres. So, they were pretty diverse systems with large watersheds and lots of influences. And dairies in those systems as well, of course, which influenced grain; and the inverse, as well. It was a Texas Parks & Wildlife funded project, so that led to a pretty natural immigration into Texas Parks & Wildlife. Parks & Wildlife hired me right at the end of that project, and I went to work actually on the management area that I was working out of the office for my graduate project from. It worked very well for me. I was one biologist on a ten thousand acre Wildlife Management Area that was nearly solely focused on waterfowl, so I got to play with a beautiful, complex system of moist-soil management units there. Got some green tree reservoirs, as well. I duck hunted just about every day of the week, in the morning before the day started. Single guy, living up there on the prairie, hunting ducks. It was a pretty good way to live, for a while.
Ramsey Russell: Break, break. I went to Mississippi State University. I also got a degree in wildlife management, which, at Mississippi State, was forestry with a wildlife option. Back in those days—it’s been a while ago, I’m 53 years old, this was over twenty years ago—most of my classmates grew up like you and I did. Hunting and fishing. We were what was then thought of as a hook-and-bullet biologist. I guess you just pretty much said that you followed the same trend. You were that guy that grew up hunting and fishing, had an appreciation for wildlife, and wanted to work in that field. Would you say that’s a pretty fair description of your trajectory also?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Yeah. I’d say that spot on. I was that guy that grew up hunting, grew up farming and ranching. I knew how to drive a tractor. I knew what it meant to put fire on the landscape or to doze a line or whatever it was. I understood the influence and the importance of the people that manage those properties, and the influence of the wildlife that use them. So yeah, that hook-and-bullet was my upbringing as well.
Ramsey Russell: That’s fantastic. So now, as a young man out of grad school, you’re managing wetlands hands-on, plus you’re getting to go out and duck hunt most mornings during duck season. Heck, that’s the dream job.
Developed Water-reuse Wetlands
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: It was a great gig. Along with that, I had the opportunity to implement needed research on these properties on everything from waterfowl to monarch butterfly research. Then I took my next step in my career with Texas Parks & Wildlife and moved to another waterfowl sanctuary property, that was off the Trinity River, that had this incredibly well-managed and developing system of water-reuse wetlands. The concept was that the Trinity River is essentially wastewater effluent coming out of Dallas and Fort Worth. This concept actually lifted water from the river, ran it through a large series of several thousand acres of well-managed wetlands, and then at the end of that—using the wetlands as a filter to clean that water—re-lifted the water back to Dallas-Fort Worth. It was essentially the concept of no net-loss of water. It was ecologically efficient, biologically sustainable, and, importantly, it created thousands of acres of really high-quality waterfowl and, essentially, just wetland habitats.
Ramsey Russell: Man, that’s incredible. That’s a win-win for everybody, isn’t it?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: It’s a great project, and it actually served as a model for projects around North America. We got to give that tour of that project to lots of school groups, lots of college groups, and a lot of people that were looking at it to adapt that model and use it around the US. It’s become kind of a poster child project. Really proud of it.
Ramsey Russell: You mentioned monarch butterflies. Now, look, I know what a monarch butterfly is. We all do, man. It’s a little orange and black butterfly that flits around here and Mississippi sometimes and gets on certain food sources. Way back when, when I was in a wildlife program, I worked down on a big ranch that straddled them at Dimmit, La Salle, and Webb counties. 1990 was the year. Sometime during that fall—maybe it was October or early November, the weather was pleasant, it went from hotter than Hades to pleasant outside—a phenomenon happened. This monarch butterfly migration came through the property. It was like every single monarch butterfly in the world was on that ranch at one time. I can remember driving a pickup truck— The soil was damp. I wouldn’t say wet, it was just damp. A little moisture had accreted. It was damp in this little low-lying area in the shade, and I can remember driving my truck up through there and stopping. I could not see the hood ornament, for all the monarch butterflies flying. Can you speak to something like that? A lot of people haven’t seen that. I’ve only seen it one time, and it was in Texas, down against the Mexican border. Were y’all experiencing that kind of migration coming through, back in those days?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: I have not witnessed something that spectacular. Our project was sort of aimed on the inverse, or the backend, of that, in the sense of that prairie up there where we were doing our work on our WMA. Again, we had a lot of prairie soils, and we applied a lot of prescribed fire. We were really addressing the fact that a lot of these pollinators are decreasing on sort of a significant scale. So we were addressing some of those indicators which we could influence. Essentially, things like milkweed production. We were looking at some of those indicators that could also be to the detriment of monarchs. All those influences such as pesticides, fire ants, all those things, to try to—at a large scale, at essentially the landscape level—provide a habitat again. With monarchs sort of being the poster child, but many other pollinators, as well. Recognizing the role, ecologically, that they play in the pollination of nearly every floral species that’s out there.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. We kind of got off onto that subject before we started recording, talking about the value of hunting and stuff like that. How it affects more than just game animals. Ecologically, how interconnected everything is. When we think of wildlife, we think of game animals, but it’s not just game animals. It’s other wildlife, too. Such as butterflies. Very important.
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: Well, so how did you make the jump from this job along the Trinity River to Dallas Safari Club? To Executive Director?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: I even had a couple of more steps in there. There’s even more migratory bird focus. When I finished that time on the WMA, then I actually served for a few years as the East Texas waterfowl and wetlands biologist. I was in that position for a few years, and then actually served as the migratory shore and upland game bird program leader for the state of Texas. Worked on everything from banding projects to working closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service and flyways and tech committees and all those kinds of things. Then, ultimately, I was the director for the eastern portion of the state, working with partners from all over. From Delta to Ducks Unlimited to the National Wild Turkey Federation. I’ve spent a lot of my career working on partnerships. Lots of partnerships. At that point in time, I had worked for the state for about sixteen to seventeen years. I loved the relationships that were made there, just the strong conservation focus, but, at the same time, was looking to maybe move outside of state government work. That’s what landed me with the opportunity at Dallas Safari Club.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start there, Corey?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: I’ve been here with Dallas Safari Club, now, just shy of three years. August will be my three-year anniversary with them.
Corey Mason Describes Dallas Safari Club
When you look at the conservation footprint of an organization like Dallas Safari Club (DSC), it’s extremely broad. It varies from our very strong support of waterfowl projects to pronghorn restoration out in the Western US, to black bear and grizzly bear research and litigation, to anti-poaching and blind work in Africa. The point of that focus is that we focus very specifically on needed wildlife conservation. Dallas is our headquarters, and our footprint is all over the world.
Ramsey Russell: Congratulations. It’s a wonderful organization. Well, how would you describe—I know how I describe Dallas Safari Club—how would you describe it? What is Dallas Safari Club?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Well, I appreciate that opportunity to really hit that. I’m a very focused individual, kind of very goal-driven, and that’s one of the things that really pulled my eyes to DSC. When I look at what the organization is, I’d say with 100% confidence that it’s probably one of the most focused conservation organizations out there. Maybe when you look at a gamut of projects and I say it’s focused, you think, ”Well, how could you say ‘focused?’” Because when you look at the conservation footprint of an organization like DSC, it’s extremely broad. It varies from our very strong support of the waterfowl projects to pronghorn restoration out in the Western US, to black bear and grizzly bear research and litigation, to anti-poaching and blind work in Africa. The point of that focus is that we focus very specifically on needed conservation. That’s conservation projects and conservation delivery of habitat. That’s needed conservation in the sense of needed science. It’s education. Education, obviously, is a very broad term. That’s not just singularly focused on youth, although there is a strong focus on that. It’s also a strong focus on the education of the general public. We’re going to talk about that a little bit more, but, essentially, the voting public, more specifically. Kind of the last tenet of our mission is conservation education, and the last is advocacy. Advocacy is what many people think it is, essentially. It is getting in front of those that are making decisions. Policymakers. More specifically, we can look at it as the state House Legislature or the US Legislature or maybe the EU Parliament or the Canadian Parliament. Many places around the world in which we very actively work for them to really, empirically, clearly understand the role of the conservation-through-hunting model and the role of hunters in conservation.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. That’s a big job. That’s a big undertaking, Corey. That’s an understatement. When was Dallas Safari Club started?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: It was started in 1982.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all have come a long way since I graduated high school.
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Yeah. We have. People ask about DSC, Dallas Safari Club, and the emphasis on Dallas. I address that question a lot. I kind of relate to people that, from 1982, it started in Dallas, Texas. Now, Dallas is our headquarters, and our footprint is all over the world.
Ramsey Russell: Yep. Is it just one chapter in Dallas, or have y’all got other chapters around the country, other chapters forming?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: We do. Obviously, Dallas Safari Club, DSC proper, is the parent organization, but we have about twelve to fourteen chapters. Our chapter system is not quite brand new, but it’s fair to say it’s fairly new. We have, again, about twelve to thirteen chapters—and another one in queue right now—that are across North America. We have purposely self-regulated and not built any international chapters, yet, to make sure that we build a really solid framework here so that we can provide a really close level of care and support to our chapters. That’s really one of the things that I think makes this organization really unique. The fact that it’s built really strongly on relationships, trust, partnership. We do not have a large staff. We have a staff of fifteen, but our conservation footprint is comparable to those organizations that have five and ten times that number of staff. We work and leverage our partnerships, and we do what we do best. We rely on those around us to do what they do best, and work in concert with them so that we’re not redundant in effort.
What is Dallas Safari Club Convention?
Ramsey Russell: Right. Y’all generate conservation dollars through convention?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: We do. Our annual fundraiser occurs in early January. That convention is many things, and you’re right in the middle of it, Ramsey, so you can keep me honest here. I think one of the things that people appreciate, when they come, is it’s really a celebration. It’s a celebration of a lot of things. It’s a celebration of a way of life. It’s a celebration of conservation, and the hunter’s role in conservation, and the camaraderie that comes from our community—the hunting community and the outdoor community. During the convention, we bring in people from all over the world. We’ve had ministers from eight or ten countries. We have, obviously, federal legislators that participate in our convention, and we have the ecological footprint of what’s in that room. Every continent is represented. Every way of life. Many languages and many flags that are represented. It is our annual fundraiser, and that’s what funds our conservation efforts for the year. Just sort of as a benchmark—this last year, we granted about $2.5 million in conservation focus grants.
Ramsey Russell: I’m sure y’all are able to leverage some of that into even more, through some of these partnerships and relationships you’re talking about. Speaking about the camaraderie, that event in Dallas, in early January, draws a lot of hunters from around the United States. I meet clients from Las Vegas, from California, from New York. A very, very broad audience I meet, right there at that show. It’s seven hours down the interstate from Mississippi, and it’s crazy how many people from Mississippi I only see at Dallas Safari Club Convention. If you see what I’m saying. Family members, or friends from way back when, that I touch base with at Dallas Safari Club Convention. I couldn’t have said it any better than that. Camaraderie. It’s a great place. It’s a very nice event. There may be bigger hunting shows, but I don’t know of any nicer events. It’s a very nice event. It’s very quiet. Anything in the world that you want is there. Boy, that camaraderie hits home. Well, tell me, I’m trying to get my mind wrapped around—to anybody listening—on how we go from this great event that generates dollars through a lot of different ways—through auctions, through hunt sales, through booth feeds, through entry fees, through membership drives, through everything else—now, where do we go around the world? What programs do we go into? What causes do we champion with those dollars? Where in conservation do we go, from convention to the mission of Dallas Safari Club?
Dallas Safari Club Wildlife Conservation Initiatives
Dallas Safari Club is that voice in the room to talk about the need for well-regulated, legal hunting and sustainable use as a whole. We try to be the tip of that spear in those fights that are happening internationally, as well as those that are occurring locally.
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Absolutely. We have a conservation advisory board that we use to help us prioritize and focus where we spend these dollars, but we also have a really good pulse, just because of our very active work with organizations around the world. Hunting organizations, conservation organizations proper, and our partners around the world have an understanding of long-standing needs and emerging needs, as well as just those long-term projects in which we engage. Those really become prioritized. Like I mentioned, last year we granted over $2.5 million in grants for conservation needs. I think when someone has an understanding of where we’re spending those dollars, it maybe kind of paints a little bit clearer picture of what our focus is. It’s a very pure conservation focus. I know that, from a name like DSC, there could be an affinity for people to think, “Well, this is an organization that just represents international hunts.” You know what? That may be fair in some sense, but through time and cyclically, as we address emerging and ongoing issues— We certainly spend a fair amount of our revenue in Africa on needed research, working with ministries there on anti-poaching. One of the reasons is because it is a battleground. It is a battleground for anti-sustainable use and anti-hunting organizations. They see that as an opportunity, as a battleground, to start slowly taking those fights away from the hunting community. If that’s lion or elephant hunting, we’re in those fights. We’re present in the room. I attend the global conservation summits, like the World Conservation Congress that was supposed to occur in June, in France, with the IUCN. Last year, I was in Geneva, Switzerland, attending CITES. The importance of that is that we are that voice in the room to talk about the need for well-regulated, legal hunting and sustainable use as a whole. We try to be the tip of that spear in those fights that are happening internationally, as well as those that are occurring locally. For example, where the British Columbia government took grizzly bear hunting from them. Not based on science, but based on, essentially, a political whim, if you will. If you look at that scope of work from those types of things; again, back to the fact that we’re working on a landscape-level scale. If it’s willow restoration, or maybe it’s a pronghorn restoration project that needs to take place in the western US, we’re working with state conservation agencies and other partners. We’re partnering with the Wild Sheep Foundation on some projects, right now, in Mexico. We’re restoring sheep on the mountains in habitat that were formerly occupied by sheep that are no longer. Again, we’ve had a long-standing relationship with Delta Waterfowl and a lot of their research, as well, that we’ve supported strongly through the years. We have a very diverse portfolio, if you will, from the conservation perspective in which we engage.
How Anti-Hunting and US Federal Policy Adversely Affects Sustainable Wildlife Management
I use the term Western arrogance a lot, and I do that pretty boldly because it’s just the truth, in the sense of trying to impose their concepts of morality on someone who they cannot understand. Nor have they chosen to try to understand.
In my feeble mind, the prohibition of exporting that as a trophy almost feeds into their eventual extinction. It’s almost like the actions of European Union or the US Fish and Wildlife Service that prohibit the legal import of those game animals just plays right into the hands of the black market.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. Pursuant to what I do, I travel a lot. I go to a lot of countries. When I start thinking about those anti-hunting, anti-sustainable use type models— I think that only because I’ve traveled to some of these countries have I gained a little inkling of perspective. Like everybody else listening, like you, like a lot of us—I just grew up hunting in my backyard. In my state. A lot of us still do just hunt real close to home, but it is a big world. As you travel, you start seeing hunting in other countries, but then you begin to put together the fact that, all over the world, all of the hunters are in the same lifeboat. For example, when I think of anti-hunting, I always think of the Netherlands and Australia, and, surprisingly, I’ve started thinking of South Africa. It’s unbelievable, the amount of anti-hunting vitriol that comes out of South African mouths. Not the guys that are out there hunting and doing the concessions, but out of South Africans themselves. It goes back to this anti-hunting. It might be hard for somebody sitting here in the United States to consider that we have anti forces at work. That as hunting for rhinoceroses or elephants or lions or geese in the Netherlands or ducks in Australia becomes increasingly legislated—it’s like urban encroachment coming up to your little suburban neighborhood. It’s getting closer to home. For example, I’ll ask you this, because you’re right there on the front line fighting the fight. We start talking about hunting African lions or hunting elephants there. Because there’s commodity value in wildlife that hunting brings—our recreational interest places commodity value. Hunting it is valuable, and a community anywhere in the world can look at this animal and say, “This is valuable to me and to my community, so we’re going to manage for it instead of extirpating.” Things of no value don’t last very long on earth. We hunters put commodity value on wildlife. I’ll say that. In the instance of, say, Africa, I know that there’s a lot of American influences. US Fish and Wildlife Service import laws that are going into play. As I look at it, as a simple regular guy, I look at it and say, “Okay, my government precluding the import of African trophies into this country displaces a lot of that commodity value.” Is that a fair assessment?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: It is. It’s even an imposition on the sovereign rights of independent countries. Specifically, you have a foreign government—in this case, it’s the US Government, either imposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service in Department of the Interior or the US Congress—in which they try to legislatively impose their wills and ideals on the way in which an African government should be able to manage its species. The same is happening right now in the European Union, across much of Europe. They have essentially taken up an effort to ban the import of legally taken animals from around the world. This is the issue. They did not engage stakeholders. They did not engage those that would be negatively impacted in their conservation efforts, nor did they really choose to hear from them when African countries stood up and said, “This is the problem,” or when countries from Asia stood up and said, “Our mountain sheep populations will be negatively impacted.” Why did you not ask those who you are essentially impacting? They didn’t do so for one reason; it’s arrogance. I use the term Western arrogance a lot, and I do that pretty boldly because it’s just the truth, in the sense of trying to impose their concepts of morality on someone who they cannot understand. Nor have they chosen to try to understand.
Ramsey Russell: It’s almost like some of that decision making may be more emotionally based than science-based, but it impacts that resource. I was in Africa last year, and we were on this particular farm. They’re in Zulu land. Beautiful, beautiful. Tens of thousands of acres. It was just a little private estate we were staying on. The drive between the gate and the bungalow we were staying in, the camp house—it was like driving through Wild Kingdom. Like the real animal kingdom. Had all these antelopes and zebras and warthogs that you could just about reach out the car window and pet. Well, this particular doctor also had five rhinos on his property. I was surprised. When you’re in Africa and you’re out in the bush and you hear a helicopter, people throw up their glasses and start looking at it because it could be a private landowner or a biologist out working, or it could be a poacher coming in to shoot an animal. I was just surprised that the adult rhinos on this property still had their horns intact because a lot of people have started sawing them off to remove the temptation for somebody to come out there and kill that animal for the horn. But this particular landowner; they were his pets. It was amazing to me, Corey, that we could step out of the truck, and they would come up to us like cattle. They would get just five or ten yards from us and look at us, like a cow. They were just pets. The male rhino had a fresh scar on his forehead, where a local poacher had shot him with a .30 caliber gun. Didn’t even go through that thick skull. It just bounced off. It was too small a caliber. It had dawned on me that, with that amount of money sitting on his nose, his days are numbered. It was disturbing to me. It bothered me. The megafauna like the rhinos eventually might become extinct. Not because of hunters and the valid commodity value we place on them that is converted into conservation, but because of black market poaching. In my feeble mind, the prohibition of exporting that as a trophy almost feeds into their eventual extinction. We give value and we give life, not to the conservation value of sport hunting, but to the black-market value. It’s almost like the actions of European Union or the US Fish and Wildlife Service that prohibit the legal import of those game animals just plays right into the hands of the black market. Is that a fair assumption?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: It is a fair assumption. We have recently actually addressed that, in the sense that we work with the Fish and Wildlife Service and have a great partnership. They attend our convention. We’re in constant relation with them. With anybody, there’s points of divergence, and this is one of them. We actually recently entered into litigation against the US Fish and Wildlife Service over this point in which they were not—as per the statutes of law—they are not processing the import of legally-taken animals, in this particular case, from Africa. That’s actually scheduled. We’ll be going, this summer, through the litigation route because they’re simply not following their own federal process. That’s not a route that DSC normally takes, but this particular inaction simply cannot be tolerated. We cannot, at a whim, decide which federal policy that we’re going to follow or not at the detriment of conservation efforts around the world, of the host country of that animal, and of the hunters that spend a large sum of money to take that hunt. Further, it even feeds the narrative to those anti-hunting organizations that are really kind of the third leg of that threat to these species around the world. It’s loss of habitat and political influence, but it’s also these anti-hunting organizations that we talk about that are maybe working in Africa. This is one of those messages that I take to a lot of places. Why should the American hunter really care about what’s happening with an elephant or a lion or markhor in Asia or a species somewhere else around the world? The fact is that those organizations that are pursuing those routes are working very actively in the United States. Complacency by the hunting community is their best friend. Specifically organizations like The Humane Society or Center for Biological Diversity or Born Free. Those organizations exist as anti-hunting organizations, and they’re working in the US actively. They want to take grizzly bear hunting. They’re working to take black bear hunting. They’re working to take mountain lion hunting. They’re working on wolves. For a hunter in the US to be complacent and think that’s somebody else’s problem is a very serious scenario.
Ramsey Russell: I’m aware of a piece of legislation. It’s several years old, now, Corey. It was one of Obama’s executive orders. It was like the Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Act. Very noble. Who wouldn’t be against trafficking of wildlife? Sure, we’re all opposed to that, but it was very generally written to protect iconic species. Well now, I can think of any animal depicted in an animal cracker box—lions and rhinos and giraffes—I can see that as iconic. In my world, iconic is a mallard duck. That’s what I hear you saying. If these agencies and these people and these laws can do something like mountain lions and elephants, it can eventually find its way into my world. Which is a mallard duck. Am I right? That’s kind of where we’re getting with this. That’s where we’re all in the boat together.
Corey Mason Explains How COVID Pandemic Used to Impede Hunting
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: That’s exactly right. That’s where the hunting community has to stand shoulder to shoulder. To use a very current, relevant example is this COVID crisis. Actually, I’ve seen a couple of pieces of federal legislation, right now, that are in the process of being developed to completely restrict and prohibit the trade of wildlife. Again, on the surface, there’s probably not a hunter out there that wouldn’t say, “Absolutely.” We’re the first in line to pay for anti-poaching initiatives or a state game warden or a provincial government gamekeeper or whatever word you want to use, around the world. But at the same time, these ambiguous terms can be applied in various scenarios—when it fits the situation—to now further restrict legally-taken animals and that trade that’s regulated by CITES. We’ve seen these organizations now use COVID as an opportunity to try to cease wildlife trade, working backwards from their suspicion that a root cause of it could have come from what they call a “wet market” in China, from a bat. Now they’re using that as a giant springboard to say that wildlife trade should be prohibited across the world. That’s a problem.
Ramsey Russell: When they first started talking about this COVID stuff, they were talking about origins in pangolins, which is kind of like an Asian version of an armadillo. Pretty interesting animal. I’ve actually seen one in captivity. They’d roll up like a ball, and you could just push it along. They’re very docile animals, but pangolins also happen to be the most poached animal on earth. And I wondered if that narrative could have been coming from some of those anti-organizations. Now that I think about it. Now that you put it this way. We’ve kind of danced all over about why hunting is important to conservation and how Dallas Safari club is involved. In fact, I will just follow up to say that I was only aware—as a normal person that doesn’t read the Federal Digest and is otherwise unaware of that kind of stuff—I was only aware of Obama’s executive order because Dallas Safari Club publicized it in their magazines. Y’all do get the word out on a lot of things that a lot of us may not be aware of otherwise.
How Can Regular Hunters Protect Hunting?
Ramsey Russell: Corey, how would you speak to the regular guy—the ordinary hunter, the guys like myself that are just duck hunting back home, or whitetail deer hunting, or maybe don’t travel internationally—how would you speak to them? How can people like us become meaningfully involved in protecting hunting, and conservation? How would you speak to somebody like that?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Absolutely. I think one of the travesties that I see—as I move around the US and around the world, speaking in various capacities—is a complacency by hunters. I’ll address the opportunity on the backend, but it’s complacency to think, “I only hunt waterfowl,” or, “I only hunt whitetail deer”—small game, squirrels, rabbits, whatever it might be—”and so, you know what? That’s really not my problem. I’ve done this for twenty years, forty years. My way of life really isn’t under threat.” The complacency in that thought is one that’s simply incorrect. Those threats to the conservation-through-hunting model and our ability to go out and enjoy a weekend or a whole season with our trusted firearm and, hopefully, our hunting dog with us—it’s constantly under threat. It’s under threat at the state-level. Legislation, like you mentioned, that’s currently in place in Connecticut and California and Florida and various places like that, that get pretty close to home pretty quickly. Or it’s under threat by legislation that’s in Washington, D.C. Even things as small as legislation that’s involved with the ability for breeders to have that lab or that springer spaniel or whatever you might have at your side. Those threats from the humane societies of the world. Simply, now, to answer the question, is the need for engagement. That engagement can come from a local hunting organization. Maybe it’s a countywide something, maybe it’s a state-level something, maybe it’s Ducks Unlimited, maybe it’s Dallas Safari Club, DSC. The point is to engage, to know what’s going on at your state legislature from an agricultural side, from a conservation perspective, from an animal rights side. All those different factors can quickly touch the hunting community. To be engaged, to know what kind of legislation is going on out there. I realize the natural response to that might be, “Well, how am I going to know that?” The response to that is, any organization that’s worth their salt will keep their membership engaged and knowledgeable of those threats as they’re coming towards you. Like you mentioned, if there’s a wildlife trade act out there, an issue that’s coming along, an organization like DSC will engage their members whenever we see those things coming up. We have an active lobby in many states, and, clearly, we have representatives and lobbyists in Washington, D.C. as well. We keep our membership base informed of those threats. Again, if it’s mountain lion hunting out West, or maybe it’s an emerging issue coming up on the East Coast. Whatever it might be. So then people are engaged, and the importance of that is the ability to know what’s going on. You can pick up the phone and call your county judge or your state representative and tell them, “You know what? I don’t support this, or I do support this.” Because that moves a needle more than any organization out there, just taking something up with them. When their constituent base knows what’s going on and talks to their local elected official, it has a huge impact.
Ramsey Russell: It’s as simple as a phone call.
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: It is.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you. I’m aware that—like myself and like practically everybody listening right now—we’re all sheltered in place. Maybe not even that anymore. Maybe just life as we know it has been put on pause. You’re probably working from home. A lot of us are.
How Might Covid Affect Wildlife Conservation?
Ramsey Russell: Corey, how do you see COVID-19 and a lot of the hoopla going around affecting hunting and conservation, moving forward? How is it going to affect Dallas Safari Club? How’s it going to affect hunting? How’s it going to affect conservation?
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: You know, one of the first big hits is to those that are closest to the resource. It’s either to the landowner, to the community conservancy, to the provincial government, to the tribe that’s leasing their land. Hunters are not traveling right now, so it’s that loss of revenue. It goes all the way back to the beginning of our conversation when you said, “Hunting creates an incentive for the landowner, whoever that landowner might be in the broadest sense, to manage for that species. To continue to have whitetail deer habitat, or beautiful wetland habitat, instead of turning it into something else.” That lack of dollars for conservation right now—in a one-year term, it may not roll the clock back a whole lot. But should that be sustained, or should those operators or landowners not be able to take this essentially one year loss— Recognizing that next year, who knows what that’s going to look like, as an economic repercussion of this year. We do know that some of the outfitting businesses have already gone out of business. They just said, “I can’t sustain this for a year,” and they’ve already sought alternate employment and sort of checked out. We can look pretty locally, if we look at the Western US or maybe, let’s say, Canada. It’s a case in point, here. They lost their spring season for bear hunting, which was a huge economic hit to them because those outfitters have to lease those properties. Many of them from governments or the forest industry or whatever it might be. They’re out that money in the front. They lose those dollars—they’re gone—and now those state game and fish agencies are not selling hunting licenses. They’re not selling fishing licenses, as of yet. Those local cafés, etcetera, aren’t feeding the hamburgers to those people that are in country, and the local hotels, etcetera. It has a huge trickle-down effect through their system. When those state agencies and provincial governments do not have the conservation dollars that come in through—on the North American side, say, the Pittman-Robertson Act—number one, it starts crippling the game and fish agency’s ability to do their business. Then we lose biological data, we lose the ability to work with landowners and work with partners. That same model can be applied around the world. A very short-term loss of dollars can have a huge impact. Maybe they look at staff reductions. Well, then the next time, from that, now there’s less wildlife staff to go out there to work for the landowner or give advice and guidance to somebody else on how to manage their property. It’s going to have a significant impact. Hopefully, it’s for the short term, but it’s something that we’ll feel for the next few years, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah, we sure will. Corey, I thank you for your time. Guys, y’all check out Dallas Safari Club. @official_dsc on Instagram and on Facebook. Of course, you can keep on following us @RamseyRussellGetDucks. Thank y’all for listening. Corey, you have given everybody a lot to think about it. You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about.
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Thanks for letting me join you.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, man. Look, I appreciate having you. Hey, I know y’all are busy at convention time, of course, but if you get a chance to swing by the booth and say hello for a cup of coffee, I look forward to shaking your hand next time I’m down that way.
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: That’d be great. I’d enjoy that.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, sir.
Corey Mason, Dallas Safari Club: Thank you.