Meet Becky Humphries
Becky Humphries may be new to the turkey world, but she's been around the conservation block a time or two during her 35-year career. Her resumé includes working with the federal government and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, where she served as director for seven years. She came to the NWTF from Ducks Unlimited, leaving her post as director of operations in Great Lakes/Atlantic Region.
Couple that with number of national committees she's chaired and no one can deny Humphries is more than well equipped to take the reigns of the NWTF conservation programs.
Turkey Country Editor-in-Chief Karen Lee sat down with Humphries to go beyond her list of accomplishments and learn her vision for the NWTF, as well as what makes her happy — her family, Spartan football and having fun.
"I love to work around [people] who value the same things I do," Humphries said. "It's so much fun when you see a project come together that pulls in the efforts of volunteers and staff, one that really moves the needle forward."
Turkey Country: Tell us about your family and the role hunting plays in it.
Becky Humphries: I grew up in a family that hunted and fished. We lived on a lake and, as a young kid, I spent nearly every day fishing. We rabbit hunted as a family. My dad was an avid bird hunter, so we chased pat — that's the northern Michigan slang term we used for ruffed grouse and woodcock. I picked up waterfowl hunting in college, deer hunting after that, and then turkey. I have three children, all grown. All of them fish; two of them hunt. We are an outdoors family. My husband died six years ago, and the outdoors got us through the grieving process. We cook wild game as a family and have celebration meals together. We save the venison loins from the previous season and cook them the night before deer season opens.
TC: What strengths do you bring to the NWTF?
BH: Relationships. I've worked in the conservation field for 35 years, so it's the strength of relationships and breadth of experience I have across the nation. And the passion I have. I value volunteers as well as staff. It takes both to have a strong organization.
TC: What are the keys to effective conservation delivery?
BH: It's about partnerships. No organization can do it alone. It takes work to build trusted relationships so everyone is willing to invest resources and move in the same direction. We spent decades in this country dividing up the landscape in geographic areas with different authorities. Now it's time to piece all that back together, to look at landscapes as a whole, to join our authorities and abilities to manage them as high priorities and try to restore them. We need to create a vision that these are working landscapes. Saving remnants of habitat isn't going to do it. We need working landscapes that fulfill a lot of needs: give us food, energy and water, as well as provide habitat for wildlife. That's the trick, to find that mix and make sure we have habitat in the appropriate amounts, in the right locations for the future.
TC: Let's talk about the future of conservation. Where do you see us heading to keep wildlife populations healthy and enough suitable habitat for them?
BH: We're going to have more demands — more wildlife, livestock, people and their pets all in close proximity. We've got to build working landscapes that protect wildlife and these other values. We've seen real problems with sharing disease between wildlife and domestic stock. It's important to develop good husbandry practices on the agricultural side and good wildlife management practices so we have quality habitat that helps manage that risk.
Note from editors: Humphries chairs the Fish and Wildlife Health Initiative, an inter-council agency of federal, state and nonprofit organizations that pool resources to keep health issues on the forefront.
TC: What role will hunters play in that future?
BH: I hope hunters stay as the nucleus of the conservation community. I believe in the North American Model. Taking revenues from hunters and investing it in conservation is a great tradition. I'm going to do everything I can to keep hunters engaged. And we have to be diligent in the political realm and make our voice heard by the general public and elected officials, making sure they understand the North American Model and how conservation is funded.
TC: What is the NWTF's reputation in the conservation world?
BH: Through the reintroduction of the wild turkey, the NWTF has done more to retain hunter numbers than just about anyone else in the hunting community. State agencies recognize the NWTF has been committed to not only reintroducing the wild turkey, but restoring habitat, making it healthy not just for turkeys, but all wildlife species that use the same habitat. The NWTF is interested in the hunter. There are organizations that focus on the shooting sports, others on habitat. But the NWTF has a boot in both camps. It's why the Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative is so important. It embodies what the organization is about.
TC: What are the greatest challenges facing the NWTF when it comes to conservation delivery?
BH: Market share. There is competition for people's free time and attention, and for the revenue we get from our banquet system and field staff. We have to get people's attention to give to our cause. We can't do it alone. We need partners, so we constantly must work on partnerships with agencies and other nonprofits to be successful. Even though it's important to maintain our core constituency — hunters — it's also important to broaden our reach. I don't have the answer, but we have a strong mission that people who don't hunt can buy into and understand. We need to make them feel welcome as members and part of the flock.
TC: What is your vision for the NWTF for the next five years?
BH: We've been opportunistic in our habitat work and that's great, but with limited resources — so much to do in so little time — we've got to be focused. We must invest our habitat dollars where they are going to do the most good, and we need to be even more engaged with partners, making sure everyone shares the same vision. Our job is to lead by example. We need to be engaged in policy issues. We worked really hard to restore wild turkeys and habitat, but with a stroke of a pen you can destroy a lot of it. We must educate and engage the next generation of legislators on the importance of the Farm Bill and forestry legacy programs, as well as state conservation programs, and teach them how these programs bring dollars back to states and the country. It doesn't hurt that we have a great vision for the future with Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.
TC: We know you just got here, but what kind of legacy do you want to leave at the NWTF?
BH: I'd like to continue James Earl Kennamer's legacy of building bridges between agency partners to get work done. I want to make sure we remain highly regarded by our partners as the go-to conservation organization and we have the reputation of putting our dollars toward the best habitat and push the best science forward. I want to be remembered as an individual who understands the link between outdoor recreation — especially hunting — and its importance to conservation.
TC: Anything else you want our membership to know about you?
BH: When momma hunts, everyone hunts. I think back to my youngest daughter, Jen. We were living on property in Michigan that had turkeys we could hunt. When Jen was young (that was when kids had to be 12 to hunt in Michigan), my husband, Bob, and I would go turkey hunting while she stayed at the house sleeping. She'd tell us to hurry back if we shot a bird because she wanted to see it while it still glowed. Gobbler's heads and iridescent feathers really glow. It was very much a part of her upbringing for us to "bring back the glow birds." She shot her first glow bird the spring after she turned 12. She viewed hunting as something you do as a family.
I think the family that hunts together, stays together. And if the mom hunts, there's a greater chance the entire family will.