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What to do about Earth Day?

8/17/2005

As April 22 approaches, we are again being called to celebrate Earth Day.

As Earth Day hype gears up, I went online to look and see what was being done. I discovered that there is an alternate Earth Day, March 20 — this one founded by John McConnell, who also claims to be the founder of Earth Day.

I never heard of John McConnell until I visited his Web site. That doesn't mean his version isn't correct, but the way I recall it, Earth Day was created by Senator Gaylord Nelson and a lot of college students, including yours truly.

The nation was awash in protests, first for Civil Rights, then to oppose the Viet Nam War. The spark that kindled the first Earth Day was a nasty oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969.

The Santa Barbara spill was not the biggest oil spill, nor the only one in those days. The Santa Barbara spill caught people's attention because it fouled a pristine ocean beach where plush resorts are located, and it got splashed all over the media, and the media is what drives public opinion.

So, 35 years later, we have an annual Earth Day, or two, being celebrated around the world.

Earth Day has always featured "eco-celebrities." Originally, the featured acts were Senators Gaylord Nelson and Edmund Muskie, activists Ralph Nader and David Brower, a host of academic notables including Margaret Mead and Paul Ehrlich, singer Pete Seeger and the humorist Arthur Godfrey.

As one of the producers of the nation's largest Earth Day 1970 college teach-ins, I got to meet Godfrey. The red-haired Irishman was not a scholar, a hothead or a politician.

Godfrey had a heart of gold, a warm sense of humor and a deep love for nature, which was partly due to inspiration from one of the largely unsung conservation heroes of the last century who never appeared at many Earth Day events — Fred Bear.

That's right, Fred Bear — the godfather of bowhunting.

Earth Day is a time to honor "eco-heroes," as well as plant trees and decry pollution. Fred Bear's legacy as a conservationist deserves more widespread recognition. Fred Bear was another Jacques Cousteau.

The story of Bear's significance to conservation, archery and hunting is made clear in a wonderful new book, "I Remember Papa Bear: The Untold Story of the Legendary Fred Bear Including His Secrets of Hunting" by Dick Lattimer (Ihunt Communications; $24.95), who was Bear's right-hand man and spokesman for decades.

This a heartfelt account of "Papa Bear's" tireless leadership during his long and enormously successful career as a hunter, bowmaker and, perhaps most importantly, ambassador for archery, bowhunting and conservation.

I never got to shake Fred Bear's hand, but I did see him shoot a bow at sportsman's shows in Detroit at Cobo Hall. In those days, Bear probably could have been elected governor of Michigan, if he chose to run.

He was a true heroic figure — a gentleman, witty, a passionate archer, a sportsman, a conservationist, a damn good shot and an inspirational bridge builder.

Dick Lattimer's book is part insider history and part guide to Bear's legacy, including an accounting of his secrets of bowhunting — advice that remains today as sound as anything that you will read about how to be a bowhunter.

What struck me as I read this enjoyable book was how Bear understood that the future of archery and bowhunting was tied to how the public perceived the bowhunter.

Bear made a concerted effort to appear on primetime TV, produce mainstream TV shows and films and introduce celebrities to the sport.

One priceless photo in the book is of the Fred Bear Sports Club featuring actors William Shatner ("Star Trek") and James Drury ("The Virginian") and astronauts Joe Engel and Walt Cunningham.

Bear taught most of the other astronauts to shoot bows and hunt with them, and a lot of other people, too. One of his broadheads was carried to the moon and back to honor him.

Bear was a regular on the primetime "American Sportsman," hosted by Curt Gowdy — perhaps the most popular sportscaster of his time.

Responding to the low-blow CBS Special "The Guns of Autumn," Bear teamed with Wally Taber to produce a 26-part TV series, "American Outdoors," exploring not just archery but wildlife conservation. When not enough sponsors would step forward (sadly, things haven't changed), Bear spent nearly $75,000 of his own money to air the series on 50 stations across the United States.

My point is that Fred Bear's spirit needs to be remembered and rekindled.

Bear was a visionary. He saw the coming anti-hunting movement and he did something about it, maybe more than any one person in the last century.

Modern leaders of hunting and shooting should study Bear's example, because power struggles and turf wars between groups cripple our sport and make hunting an easier target for the antis.

By the way, this year's Earth Day will feature some TV shows where some new celebrities go to bat for the environment. Cameron Diaz is going to host a 10-part eco-travel series, "Trippin'" on MTV that will include a number of well-known musicians.

You want to reach kids about hunting? Do shows on MTV. Give Fred Bear protégé Ted Nugent a gold star for doing that all the time.

On PBS, Edward Norton will host "Strange Days on Planet Earth," and Matt Damon will host "Journey to Planet Earth."

I can hear some guys grumbling, "And what will these greenies say about hunting?"

If you don't like what you see, don't blame the celebrities. If Fred Bear was still around, he would have invited all of them to learn to shoot a Bear Bow and go hunting and fishing with him. How many hunting groups actively try to introduce celebrities to outdoor sports?

Another tip on a movie that may prove as important to archery's image as when Geena Davis almost made the Olympic archery team is an upcoming Paramount Pictures feature film, "The Weatherman," starring Nicholas Cage. You can see the trailer online.

I can't tell you exactly how target archery is part of the story, but it is prominent and looks promising. If you like what you see, go see the movie.

Nicholas Cage as the next Fred Bear? Stay tuned.

To contact Ihunt Communications, call (866) 837-3135.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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