“He could be as blunt as a shovel, as salty as a sailor and wax rhapsodic when talking about his love of the outdoors–and our need to preserve it. He was all that, a very competent politician, a wheeler-dealer par excellence, and a friend.”
Those are the well-chosen and well-deserved words of Jim Shepherd of The Outdoor Wire. I lifted them from an emotional tribute he sent out today mourning the passing of Jim Range, or “Range” as he was called, one of the best friends most hunters and anglers never even knew they had.
I, for example, have been hunting and fishing for fifty years and writing about it for forty, but I never knew I had such a good friend until I met Range two years ago at his Flyway Ranch at Craig, Montana. He was hosting the annual media summit sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). The first night at the post-dinner chat, he stands up and starts talking politics and how we had to work both sides of the aisle to win approval for wildlife-friendly energy legislation, mining law reform, and most notably, his current passion, the farm bill, which he considered the largest and most important piece of legislation ever for hunters.
I remember the first words I ever heard come from Range: “I’m a Republican.” That was the start of his long pep talk to a crowd of arguably left-leaning outdoor writers–and his way of emphasizing how the reluctance of conservationists to work both parties hurt their cause. It was as eloquent and passionate as it was convincing.
Range was an obsessive coalition builder, and perhaps his crowning achievement was the launching of the TRCP, currently one of the most effective conservation groups in this country, largely because it assumed the personality of its founder. (Click here to read my earlier TRCP profile.)
Most hunters and anglers reading this headline will ask, “Who’s Jim Range?” That’s because he was a behind-the-scenes guy. You didn’t see his name on the front pages, which was precisely how he liked it because he knew it didn’t advance the cause. But he loomed large in the political background with the knowledge that so much more can get done if people aren’t worried about getting credit for it.
I hardly know where to start with the accolades, but here’s a sampling.
“Range was a tireless champion for the America’s fish and wildlife resources,” according to TRCP’s announcement of the unexpected loss of the group’s mentor at the tragically early age of 63.
He was perhaps best known as a long-time advisor to former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, where Range quietly helped shape several of our country’s landmark environmental laws. He received Outdoor Life Conservationist of the Year Award for his expertise in “shifting the entire environmental debate to a more reasonable center.” He also received the U.S. Department of the Interior’s highest honor, the Great Blue Heron Award, and the American Sportfishing Association’s Norville Prosser Lifetime Achievement Award.
And we should all dream about having his personal energy. In addition to his day job as a Senior Policy Advisor at a prestigious D.C. law firm (Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz), he chaired the TRCP Board and gave up his prized outdoor time to serve on boards for Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Wetlands America Trust, American Sportfishing Association, American Bird Conservancy, Pacific Forest Trust, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, and Yellowstone Park Foundation. He also did a shift on the board of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, was honorary president of the Izaak Walton League, and was a White House appointee to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, the Sportfishing and Boating Partnership Council and the Valles Caldera Trust.
How’s that for a schedule?
“We’ve all lost someone who wasn’t afraid to do whatever he thought necessary to accomplish good things for America’s outdoors,” TRCP announced. “Fortunately, his good work survives,” referring to TRCP’s collective aim to restore conservation as a national priority.
But Range still had time to chase sharptails in the backyard of his modest ranch home at the Flyway Ranch and match wits with the wily trout of the Missouri River flowing through his front yard. When you were anywhere near him, you could feel his passion for the outdoors. It permeated the local atmosphere like ice crystals in a frosty winter morning, but he’d instantly lay down his fly rod or shotgun for a chance to politic for the rights of all hunters and anglers. I saw him do it.
Regrettably, I didn’t know Jim Range for long, but I knew him long enough to miss him always. Cancer claimed him way before his time, but his legacy will live on, just as Theodore Roosevelt’s does, through the work of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
As for a memorial, I’m sure Range would not want you to waste your money sending flowers. Instead, he’d want you to become a member of and contribute to TRCP–or honor his memory by writing a letter to your congressional representatives supporting the cause of conservation.
In closing, a few snippets of well-deserved and typically bipartisan praise from the names you do see on the front pages:
“Jim Range was a dedicated, loyal and trusted member of my staff who helped to fashion some of this country’s most vital environmental legislation,” U.S. Sen. Howard Baker (R-TN)
“Jim Range has been one of those rare individuals who has dedicated his life to bringing opposing parties together to unite for a common good. I truly believe that if extremists on both sides of the environmental spectrum could learn from Jim’s wisdom and work, the whole country would be better off.”–U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“He knows where the American people are and he would rather make progress than noise. He has never been good at guarding his left or right flank politically but since Jim is moving so fast down the center with common sense conservation policies, I believe any bullets will pass safely behind.”–U.S. Sen. Christopher ‘Kit’ Bond R-MO.
“The only way we will make progress on the environment is through people like Jim who are willing to do the tough, prolonged, unglamorous work of forging compromises that make a real difference on the ground. Too much attention is paid to the shrill voices at the barricades and not enough to real heroes like Jim Range who are moving us beyond political stalemate.”– U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY).
“Jim Range has done much over the course of his career to build consensus and promote solutions relative to the conservation challenges our country faces,”–U.S. Rep. John Tanner (D-TN), also a recipient of Outdoor Life’s Conservationist of the Year Award.
“Jim is one of the sportsmen’s best friends in Washington, D.C. I rest a little easier knowing that Jim’s looking out for our interests and fighting to protect our outdoor heritage.”– U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Through his work in both the public and private sector, TRCP’s Chairman, Jim Range, has shown a true to commitment to protecting America’s hunting and fishing resources.”–U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC), a co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.
“From serving as key congressional staff in developing the Clean Water Act, to forming diverse conservation alliances today, Jim Range’s imprint on America’s landscape will continue to be felt for generations”–U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.
“Jim Range was the most ardent conservationist I’ve ever known, as he never restricted problem solving to traditional means. Jim was about producing results for the American sportsman, period. And you never had to guess what he was thinking!”–Marc Pieerce, TRCP board member.