Mississippi native to lead the Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest conservation organization in the U. S.
Published 9:45 am Sunday, January 29, 2023
Greenville native James L. Cummins is the first president of the Boone and Crockett Club to have a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries management. He earned a degree at Mississippi State University and got a masters at Virginia Tech.
Cummins was recently named president of the club and is the first president from Mississippi. He works as the executive director of Wildlife Mississippi.
“It is humbling when you think of the people who have sat in this spot before me,” he said.
His appointment to the position brings things full circle to Theodore Roosevelt who was the first president of the oldest national conservation organization, and it was formed in 1887. Boone and Crockett Club’s biggest mission in hunting was the idea of Fair Chase in which being a gentleman afield and conservation of wildlife habitat was prioritized.
As a boy, Cummins said his mom worked as the manager for the Greenville Education Federal Credit Union and he would go outside to the cemetery across the street. It happened to be the same cemetery where Holt Collier is buried. He is the man who guided Roosvelt on a bear hunt in Onward in the delta. Collier had a lot of pressure to make the hunt go successfully so he caught a bear and tied it to the tree and then brought Roosevelt to shoot it. Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear in what was the first public display of Fair Chase.
“I had no idea at the time, but it was an all-black cemetery. We have since got it on the National Registry of Historic Places and will get funds to restore Collier’s grave. We hope to make it look nice with a plaque telling his role in the Teddy story,” Cummins said. “The hunt was in 1902 and has to be the most famous hunt on American soil. It gave birth to the national idea of Fair Chase and the birth of the most famous toy, the Teddy Bear.”
Cummins said he loves history and rattled off a list of names of famous people who were once presidents of the Boone and Crockett Club. Roosevelt, George Grinell, Jack Parker and George Hixon are some of the first names he could recall. He will be the first president from Mississippi.
L.Q.C Lamar of Mississippi and member of the Boone and Crockett Club authored the Timberland Reserve Bill which enlarged Yellowstone and set aside 13 million acres of America’s first timber reserves. Key Pittman, of Vicksburg, was the author of the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act which funds State Wildlife Agencies, he said.
Cummins mom’s family landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1642 and made muskets for the colonial army before Loyalists burned their operation during the revolutionary war. They moved to Mississippi where the governor asked them to form Carroll County in 1833.
Most of the original farm is still owned by the family and he. The property has ceased its role as a working farm and has now been restored to its native forest cover with management for deer, wild turkey, waterfowl, and other wildlife, he wrote in his first message as club president.
Jack Herring, a biologist who became the Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Conservation, was his uncle and taught him a lot about wildlife and fisheries management. He said Herring and Crystal Springs native Fannye Cook played a key role in the state’s conservation efforts. Cummins did a report in high school on the growth of white tail deer antlers.
“Growing up I was exposed to things others were not. He exposed me to the outdoors, wildlife, and fisheries management. It gave me a passion,” Cummins said. “Being so passionate here is how I can do what I love. I enjoy being in the pursuit of game but also just being outside. Watching the sun come up. Experiencing wild places and wild things gets your motor running. The thought of being able to work towards improving resources for the next generation is powerful to me.”
Looking to the future
Cummins has already worked to help pass the Chronic Wasting Disease Management and Research Act. It was one of the biggest concerns for the Boone and Crockett Club. He said the club is additionally concerned about Mississippi’s Attorney General’s opinion opening a door to legalize the sale of deer between deer pens.
“Teddy is probably rolling over in his grave. It is not a good example of hunting ethics,” Cummins said. Public support for hunting is higher when people use Fair Chase methods and use the game for food. However, they are not supportive of breeding for the bullet, he said.
Boone and Crockett works hard to maintain the privilege of hunting and enhance conservation. One bill they hope to get passed this year is the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to help restore habitat for threatened species, control invasive species and address diseases. The club will also work on the Farm Bill which is one of the largest sources of funding for wildlife agencies, conservation and private land conservation.
The Farm Bill could help Mississippi’s populations of Bobwhite Quail, deer, turkey, and ducks. Forest policy is another key topic.
“How can we do a better job with the national forests and provide good habitat for wildlife and make sure we have good forest health,” Cummins said. “Mississippi has some of the best national forest lands in my opinion.”
Working in conservation
Sportsmen in Mississippi and the U.S. can get involved with the club as an associate member for just $35 a year. There are other levels of membership including Sponsor Associate, Sportsman Associate, and Lifetime Associate according to the Boone and Crockett website.
Cummins was recruited to join the club by Bob Model and once he got in the club he fell in love with it. Boone and Crockett helped create the system of National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks and National Forests but has since worked towards offering incentives for private land conservation efforts.
As president, Cummins will oversee staff in Missoula, Montana and work with the board and committees to chart the future for the next two years. He has plans to be in Washington D.C. a lot of the next two years of his term.
“It takes a lot of work with congress and a lot of work with industry partners. We will work closely with other clubs and groups,” he said. “The Safari Club is run by Laird Hamberlin who I went to school with from first to 12th grade and played football in his front yard. It will take work with other movements, but we can work together with other groups to have good conservation programs. I have to pinch myself sometimes. This is a real privilege.”