Land Tawney: Sportsman, Conservationist & Hard Hunting Family Man
Stalking the seam is not a passive endeavor. Getting after it, while meeting the demands of work and family, requires intention and effort. Likewise, conserving the resources, perpetuating the values, and passing on the knowledge and lore that make our pursuits possible for future generations can feel like an uphill battle. Apathy and ignorance are powerful forces, and they’re not overcome without broad engagement and insightful leadership.
In the course of our personal and professional lives, Steven and I each get to spend time with inspiring individuals who are rising to those paired challenges. Land Tawney is a prime example. As the Executive Director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Land is leading one of the most innovative and energetic forces at work in conservation today. BHA owes much of its meteoric rise to the passion and dedication of hunters and anglers like you. But for Land, it all starts at home. It’s a perspective we know STS’ readers can appreciate…
STS: There are any number of important fields you could work in, and populations you could work with to make a difference. Why hunting and angling and sportsmen?
LT: It’s in my blood. I grew up with a father and mother who spent as much time outdoors as possible. Hunting and fishing was part of the rhythm of our life. Not only was hunting and fishing deeply rooted as a lifestyle but both my parents dedicated their lives to advocating for its conservation. They were the first full time environmental lobbyists at the Montana state legislature. My father went to law school and became one of the premier conservation easement lawyers in the state. He used his skills to help start the Rock Mountain Elk Foundation and ultimately bring them to Missoula. He was RMEF’s lawyer until his untimely death in 1995. Today, my mom is the chair of the Cinnabar Foundation, the premier conservation giving foundation in MT. I guess it was just osmosis. Now I have a five year old daughter and an almost three year old son. Like my parents did with my sisters and I, these kids get a bunch of time outside to explore, hunt and fish. I’m committed to making sure they have the same opportunities I did.
STS: Your father was a well known Montana hunter and angler whom I’ve heard described as a “sportsmen’s conservation legend”. You’ve clearly picked up where he left off. How did he instill the sporting ethic in you?
LT: My father traveled a lot when I was growing up. I don’t remember him being gone. I remember instead those special times outdoors. Whether that was a week-long trip on the Bighole River during the salmon fly hatch – literally tromping in his steps up steep, snowy hillsides – or early morning duck hunts. These are what stick in my mind. On those trips I got to see his sheer joy of pursuing quarry and the way he treated people. He was present in every sense of the term. I was privy to late nights around campfires and car rides where conservation was a premier topic. He encouraged me to get involved but mostly he led by example. I looked up to my father in every sense of the word ,and to play a small part in carrying on his legacy is my sweet spot. He has been gone for 19 years now but when afield, he is behind every bend in the river, and over every ridge.
STS: How important is it to you to pass that legacy on to the next generation?
LT: Passing the legacy on to Cidney and Colin is deeply rooted inside of me… almost a painful ache. Cidney caught a fish all by herself this summer. I’d caught plenty of fish before and let her reel them in but she hooked it, reeled it in and got it into the net. I asked her if she wanted to keep it or put it back and she told me, “EAT IT!” She has been cleaning birds with me since she was two and we went on several ducks hunts together this fall. Colin has fallen in love with ice fishing, and though he hasn’t hooked one yet, his face beams when they come out of the hole. Seeing things through their eyes reminds me how special and exciting the outdoors are. They both are sponges soaking up knowledge left and right. While I’m selfish about my two rug-rats, I want to provide these same opportunities for all kids.
STS: Is there a story that goes with your name – Land?
LT: I’m named after Land Lindbergh, son of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. Land lives up the Blackfoot River valley and has been a family friend for ages. He is a gentle passionate conservationist who has been one of the driving forces around the success of the Blackfoot Challenge. That coupled with my parents attraction to conservation and it just seemed to fit. It was hell growing up…water, dirt, mud, the name calling was incessant. My mom even put a sign around my neck in fourth grade for pirate day..”Land Ho.” This all changed in fifth grade when I got in my first fist fight. I lost, but the name calling stopped. Today it aptly fits.
STS: Of all of the ways you hunt and fish, which is your favorite to do with the kids? Any tips or tricks you learned from going out with your parents as a kid that you use today?
LT: Fishing. They can be active participants from the get go. Who knew a Scooby Doo Zebco could be so much fun? I’ve had my kids on my back fly fishing since they were born. Probably a bit sketchy on slippery rocks but they have thoroughly enjoyed it. I often took Cid duck hunting this year, an hour or two at a time. The last day we went we did the full blown wake up early and hunt hard. We got lucky and were on the X with lots of action. Tips? Lots of hard candy…not only does it give them something to do but if my kids are anything like others, they have motor mouths and the candy gives you a moment of blissful silence. And have an end goal. Hot chocolate always makes for a good one…something they love at the end of a day afield. My father always used to take me to a local burger joint. I confess that I would be daydreaming during a hunt, anticipating playing pool, drinking a chocolate milk shake and eating a fantastic burger at day’s end.
STS: You’ve got a demanding job, a mortgage, a family, sleep deprivation, aches, pains and all the rest. But you’re still getting out there and getting after it. Any advice on how others can do the same?
LT: Hah, glad you noticed, but for me it’s not anywhere near enough. First, realize this is a stage. My kids are getting older and more mobile. Case in point, we are putting in for a Smith River permit this year, a five day float of some of the most iconic water in MT. My wife and I finally think our son could handle it…us too. Second, consciously make the time. Lives are busy and just seem to get busier, if you don’t schedule it, you don’t do it. That said, be ready to seize last minute opportunities as well. An hour here and an hour there make a huge difference. Lastly, make it part of your work. I often wet a line on some obscure stream when I’m traveling. It’s a good way to stretch the legs and clear the mind. As often as I can, I schedule work meetings afield. There is no better way to build relationships then on the water or pulling the trigger, having a shared experience of near misses and success are memories never lost.