As a hunter, conservationist and retired fisheries and wildlife professor, Erik Fritzell sees a need. And he’s trying to do something about it.
Fritzell, 69, has set up an endowment fund through the UND Foundation to support wildlife and game management efforts at UND. Money from the endowment fund -- officially known as the Wildlife-Game Management Scholarship Endowment -- will support UND graduate students doing research on game species.
Down the road, Fritzell says he envisions the endowment funding a standing graduate assistant position and a competitive undergraduate scholarship.
The endowment is Fritzell’s way of bucking a trend toward fewer game management programs at universities across the U.S. and Canada -- a trend UND has resisted.
Fritzell, a Grand Forks Central graduate who earned his bachelor’s degree at UND, his master’s at Southern Illinois University and his doctorate at the University of Minnesota, taught fish and wildlife management courses at the University of Missouri and worked as an administrator at Oregon State University.
He also was national president of The Wildlife Society in the in the mid-1990s.
Fritzell retired in 2006 and returned to Grand Forks, where he remains active in local and regional wildlife and conservation issues.
As Fritzell explains, hunters were the original movers and shakers in conservation and wildlife management dating to the late 19th century; universities in the 1930s became players in that effort.
That began to change in the 1970s, Fritzell says, with growing emphasis on nongame species, legal demands of new environmental legislation and other conservation dimensions that forced management agencies to broaden their focus.
Those agencies, funded by dedicated sources such as hunting and fishing licenses, federal aid such as Pittson-Robertson and federal duck stamp sales, retained effective management programs, Fritzell said.
At the same time, though, he said, universities shifted staffing and programming to tackle changing conservation agendas, often at the expense of game management.
“The role of universities hasn’t been realized,” Fritzell said. “Some universities have no interest in game management’s decline in curriculum.”
At UND and North Dakota in general, hunting is still a major part of wildlife management, and that led Fritzell to approach UND officials about setting up the endowment fund through the UND Foundation.Early returns
The endowment has grown to about $18,000 since it was launched in September, Fritzell says, mainly through word of mouth and contributions from friends.
He’d like to see that number continue to build.
“My sort of personal goal is I would love to see it grow to ($250,000) by the time I die,” Fritzell said. “Whether it gets there or not, I don’t know. It can be operational at $25,000.”
Citing statistics from other researchers, Fritzell said 55 universities across the U.S. and Canada had waterfowl programs from the 1970s through the 1990s. By 2013, that number had fallen to 31 -- 26 in the U.S. and five in Canada -- Fritzell said, with more losses expected as professors retire.
UND has resisted the trend, Fritzell said, and two faculty members -- Susan Ellis-Felege and Jay Boulanger -- have active research and education programs with game management as a primary focus.
At the same time, student interest in game management and participation in organizations such as the UND Chapter of The Wildlife Society remains as strong -- or stronger -- than ever. UND students, for example, are at the forefront of research using drones to study snow geese and their damage to the Arctic landscape along the Hudson Bay coastline.
All the more reason to set up the endowment and keep the momentum going.
“This is a capacity-building project,” Fritzell said. “I’m not going to say it’s not competitive, but at the same time, it will be used strategically.”
A formal fundraising campaign hasn’t been launched, but tax-deductible donations can be made to the UND Foundation Wildlife-Game Management Scholarship Endowment online at www.UNDalumni.org/gamemanagement or by contacting Fritzell at (701) 610-3985 or email@example.com.
Hunter-conservationists have the responsibility to step up to ensure the future of hunting and wildlife management, Fritzell says -- a responsibility he shares.
“No contribution is too small,” he said.