Conservation in Action:
Meet Tom Bateman. Retired. Father of three. Eight grandchildren. Soon to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. Twenty-five years as a Fish and Wildlife officer. Forty years spent absolutely, unequivocally dedicated to the enjoyment and conservation of Alberta’s natural resources. Instrumental in the creation of the now 3,000-member-strong Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association (AHEIA) in 1964. Increased annual student participation in hunter education programs ten fold since 1995, with more than 1,000,000 graduates to date. Author of two books. Winner of just about every conservation award out there, including the prestigious Order of the Bighorn and the WISE Foundation award for his conservation work here in Alberta.
But do all these numbers, awards and accolades really matter? In Tom’s own words: “When you’re out doing what you love and find you’re officially recognized for your work in some capacity, it’s a very humbling experience.” From my interview with Tom Bateman, it became abundantly clear that there were many other people he thought were more worthy of recognition than himself. It’s okay to be recognized as one of Alberta’s great conservationists, Tom. Besides, it’s the rest of us who should be humbled by your passion and dedication to the natural world we share. You have helped make it a better place for more than a million of us.
Many of us came into this world without the innate desire—or need—to explore the outdoors, to hunt and fish, discover new lands, experience nature. Most of that has been numbed by the mechanics of daily life in an urban culture. Probably what motivates Tom most is to help people reestablish that link with nature, to recognize the connection between people and wildlife, and appreciate how greatly wildlife contributes to our quality of life here as Albertans. According to Tom, the best way to do this—if the million-plus graduates from AHEIA’s hunter education programs are any indication—is for people who love the outdoors to take other people into the outdoors with them.
Tom’s life work is proof that when one person takes another person outdoors good things happen. It takes two elements to make a spark. Same rule applies to reigniting our desire to be in nature. Consider the kid who showed up in Tom’s care at Camp Albert one summer, at a typical teenage crossroads between becoming a decent human being or an utter you-know-what. As it happens, an incident with a young black bear forced Tom and this young person to figure out the situation together to help the bear over the course of a day and a half. Things crystallized. 20-odd years later, this individual went on to become a leader in conservation himself.
“Hunter education is character education,” says Tom. “It teaches you to do the right thing regardless of the situation.” He and the approximately 3,000 other volunteer instructors at AHEIA are motivated by the same thing: to promote a higher standard of sportsman behaviour. Together—in groups large and small, informal and organized—they will lead an estimated 75,000 students through various hunter and outdoor education courses this year alone, making it one of the largest and most respected outdoor conservation and education associations in North America. According to Tom, people generate such tremendous interest in these resources themselves, often coming out for sessions not as individuals but as a family unit. This broad interest prompted Tom to help establish AHEIA’s Outdoor Women’s program 18 years ago, also the largest of its kind in North America.
But let’s not forget the point: it’s not about becoming the biggest or the best, winning the most awards, garnering the most attention. It’s about the sublime fulfillment that can come from a life dedicated to doing what you love, motivating countless others along the way, and contributing hugely to the big amorphous “greater good.”