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Thank you to wildlife’s friends, my friends

When I started writing for Eric Epstein’s Rock the Capitol about eight years ago, one of the first stories I related to readers was an experience two of my children and I had with two pitbulls let off their leashes.

The readership statistics on this one essay were off the charts. Very high volume, and lots of comments. When I asked why, Eric and his website manager, whose name I now forget, told me that news items and stories involving animals claim the biggest share of attention on the Internet.

Fascinating, right?

And we all kind of see this fact in the strange way people routinely show concern for an injured goat in the news by donating a million dollars so the goat can get its broken hoof fixed, and then a truly sad situation involving some news story about a poor unfortunate child whose abusive parents tormented her for years raises just five bucks to get her into a better home.

It is true that people care about animals, and that is a good thing. But this care seems to extend mostly, really overwhelmingly, to domesticated animals; animals that depend upon humans for care and shelter. A natural and healthy empathy is aroused when some unfortunate critter is seen hemmed in by wire or caging, unable to provide for itself and yet not being provided for by the humans around it.

The type of animals people have the least identity with is wildlife. Most Americans, being urban or suburban, simply mythologize wildlife.

From this more urban view, all bears are universally perceived as aggressively dangerous (they are not, though grizzlies are definitely more aggressive than black bears). Deer run out in front of our cars, eat our crops, spread ticks with Lyme Disease, and nibble our yard shrubs, dammit. Squirrels are nasty tree rats with fuzzy tails chewing on our yard furniture, eating the produce of our gardens and fruit trees, and diving our trash bins. And skunks, possums and raccoons are a bunch of rabies-ridden trashcan raiders. And so on.

Wildlife by and large is not greatly appreciated by the general public, unless it is a close-up photo of some baby raccoon or fox kit. And no, I am not talking about wildlife photographers or the insane Humane Society as representative of the general public. These two categories of people are far distant outliers of one sort or another, and no generality can be drawn from their presence among or about wildlife.

So thank God there are sportsmen out there; that is, hunters and trappers. These are the Americans who really do truly care for and about wildlife, and they prove it every damned day with their financial donations and back-breaking work on wildlife habitat projects.

There is no better advocacy group or aggregation of active people who love wild animals and the wild places they need to thrive than hunters and trappers. Time has proven this fact, though the foolish flatlander will claim, with a mouthful of gross stockyard beef in her mouth, that hunting and trapping are “cruel.”

Most of our public lands were first acquired by and for hunting and trapping, at the urging of hunters and trappers. They knew in the 1890s and 1920s that human encroachment into formerly wild areas was leaving no room for the most interesting animals on earth. Many of these animals are more interesting than most of the humans we will encounter in any given day, week, month, or lifetime.

This weekend I really enjoyed my time among a special group of people, the state-wide leadership of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists (PFSC), what until yesterday was known as the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (PFSC). Most Americans no longer know that the word “sport” is about hunting, fishing, and trapping, nor do they know what a ‘sporting club’ is about. The lexicon has changed as the daily experience has changed. Meat is no longer acquired from a wild animal who knew it was hunted, but rather from a miserable creature tormented from its earliest days until its last moment alive and turned into a convenient styrofoam package.

The PFSC folks are the people who work every day for the benefit of wildlife, for wildlife habitat, for the defense and promotion of our state parks, state forests, and state game lands. These people do it humbly, quietly, generously, and usually all they get in return is some self-satisfaction from sitting back after a grouse hunt and, despite an empty game bag, intently watching a mysterious red Fall sunset streaked with white wispy trailing clouds sinking down behind shadowy trees shedding their colorful leaves. A deeply comforting stillness overtakes these people at these moments, alone or with companions, and when they go home that night, they know their decades of work fundraising for the latest land acquisition by the Wildlands Conservancy has paid off. It might be a relatively small nook in a big world, but it is a special nook nonetheless, where wildlife — wild animals unknown and unloved by most people — can call home until the next glacier comes through and re-orders the earth’s surface, as has already happened many times in the past.

Here is to you, a heartfelt thank you, my friends, my companions, my betters and my teachers among the outdoorsman fellowship. Thank you for your time and gift to me and to everyone and every living thing around me, whether they know or know not what you do for us.

Ken Matthews, local reporter extraordinaire

WHP580 AM radio has long been a source of news for those hungry for accurate reporting outside of the establishment media liberal agenda.

Bob Durgin was the lovable, garrulous, crotchety, cowboy hat wearing local man-on-the-street news guy from 3:00 to 6:00 daily, and his news items shaped a good deal of local, regional, and state politics.  Because Durgin worked in the state capital region, he was listened to by a population of political activists.  So when the PA state legislature midnight pay raise happened, Durgin was on the soap box, giving vent to his frustration.  He inspired an entire movement and generation of political activists; existing activists like Gene Stilp, Russ Diamond, and Eric Epstein were bolstered by having weekly access to his show as guests, and often sitting in for Durgin when he went on vacation.

After Durgin retired, Ken Matthews was hired by RJ Harris to run the 3-6 slot.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if Ken was going to make it during his first couple of months at the microphone.  His listeners missed Durgin’s style, and they missed Durgin’s local content.  It is a tough place to be, following three hours of Rush Limbaugh, and the natural inclination is to talk about national and international issues.  After all, these big issues best reflect the great principles and ideas that guide government, both good and bad.

So Ken’s callers were hostile towards him.  They didn’t like his style, his voice, or his views.  It was a rough transition, and it came through the radio like a sharp thumb in the eye.

But to Ken’s credit, he dove into the Central PA culture and took a crash course in our ways and our people.  There is a reason that this region is the most politically and culturally conservative area in America.  Our people here will always fight the good fight, and they want to be knowledgeable about politics.

Ken Matthews has now mastered the audience’s interests and passions, and he has really hit his stride.  Last week Ken reported on the frivolous but dangerous lawsuit against Perry County Sheriff Nace, by liberal county auditors seeking concealed carry permit holders’ information. Did the Patriot News report on it up front? No.  But, surprisingly, that liberal activist newspaper had an incredible interview with citizen activist Jim Lucas, after the fact.  So Ken is having an impact.

Ken’s reporting awakened a sleeping giant in otherwise pastoral, tranquil Perry County.  Ken is a hero.

Perry County’s tranquility is often seen as being simple and backwards by outsiders.  As a guy who grew up in very rural farm country, I can tell you that the outward tranquility masks a soul of steel and resolute commitment to American liberties.  City slickers do not understand that.  Here comes the political surprise, folks!  The hornet’s nest was knocked down with a broom handle, kicked, and then a swarm of angry hornets poured forth.  The implications for the 2016 state senate race in the 15th PA senate district are huge.  Perry County voters are now riled up.

Thank you to Ken Matthews, a friend of our Second Amendment rights, and a fantastic local reporter.  We are pleased to have you wearing Bob Durgin’s big cowboy boots.