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A Message from George Thornton, NWTF CEO

George Thornton
NWTF CEO

The greater the risk, the greater the reward

"George, how do you sleep at night?"

It's a question I've gotten on more than one occasion -- usually by someone who's bending my ear about something the NWTF is doing he or she doesn't agree with.

In my position as CEO, I feel as if so much is on the line. Success or failure, the resource can't stand up for itself. I've been with the NWTF for six years now, and I've seen my fair share of both.

You may not realize it yet, but each of you is part of something so significant, so innovative and so fast-paced that it may fly by and you will have missed it.

Innovation comes with a price. The greater the risk, the greater the reward ... if we play our cards right.

The history and success of this great organization are incredible. A few short years ago, no one would have believed that a success story like the restoration of the wild turkey could be trumped. But today, we're trying. The mountain is bigger. The stakes are higher. And the risk necessary to make it to the top is something few organizations are bold enough to take on.

Two short years ago, we launched the grandest undertaking in the history of the NWTF -- Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. It's a bold effort to save the future of conservation funding in North America. And it was a significant risk. It required changing our business practices, what we asked of our volunteers, how we approached partnerships, and the list goes on and on.

But the support that came forward almost immediately was incredible. In the first year we launched Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt., the NWTF had its most successful fundraising year ever. Innovation was happening. The next step had to happen ... and fast. For the sake of the NWTF. For the sake of the resource. For the sake of solving the problem of declining hunter numbers. So, we introduced the NWTF Hunting Heritage Center, which includes the Palmetto Shooting Complex.

It's a vision totally new to our industry; a resource never before realized, finally available to help solve this great problem -- to aid in securing the future of conservation and our hunting heritage. Not just for the NWTF. Not just for people in South Carolina. Not just for people in the Southeast. For people all over our country. And for generations to come. Just eight short months after we marked the first tree, you could shoot a round of sporting clays, skeet or trap at the Palmetto Shooting Complex. Dozens of youth have had an opportunity to enjoy a hunt on the grounds that will become our Outdoor Education Center.

But more importantly, today, I am assured that the most significant risk ever undertaken by the NWTF was the right move. I know it, because we're celebrating an outpouring of financial support unlike anything we've ever seen before. From the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. From several hunting and shooting companies. From other visionaries just like us.

In a single year, we've raised nearly $11 million for the Hunting Heritage Center, and we're only gaining momentum.

We're also making great strides in how we successfully deliver on our mission of habitat conservation. We've identified the most critical habitats for upland wildlife that need our attention, and grouped them into six areas (the Big Six): America's Western Wilderness; America's Crossroads; America's Heartland; America's Mid-South Re-Birth; America's Colonial Forests; and, America's Southern Piney Woods.

That pace I mentioned earlier? How it's continued to pick up? I'm pleased to announce the first of our flagship projects -- away from our campus in Edgefield -- in one of our critical landscapes, America's Southern Piney Woods, in South Alabama. We call it Big Escambia Creek. It's 5,100 acres of potential covered with black-water creeks, white-sand beaches and beautiful timber. This property will become a living representation of what Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. will accomplish across this country. It's a reality because of two men, Russell Bennett and Carlton Walstad, who have given us the largest land gift ever received by the NWTF -- worth more than $8 million.

The pace is fast. The risk is great. But the momentum is unstoppable.

The resource is grateful. And those people influenced by what we're doing that we'll never get the chance to meet? They will be too.

How do I sleep at night? Not much. I'm too excited!

George Thornton, NWTF CEO


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