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Each year I try to do important things: camping with the family, hunting for elk, deer, chukars and bears, fishing for trout, bass and tuna, crabbing and clamming … well, you get the idea. These are important milestones and all involve being in the outdoors—except one.

Each year without fail—unless a tree falls on my leg — I attend the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. My regular involvement is an anomaly; I am not by nature a joiner, but in the early 1980s, when I was just starting my writing career, OWAA helped me learn, connect and establish myself as a freelance writer. Since then the organization has become a major part of my personal and professional life.

Freelance writing, an inherently private vocation, can lead to a lonely existence, so the opportunity to talk and share with people who have the same hopes, dreams and struggles is critical. It’s remarkable how quickly solid friendships are formed even by people who see each

As rewarding as the friendships are, the OWAA conference is a professional gathering, formulated to provide grist for our writing mills as well as advanced training to help us hone our craft.

Deep Well Injection and Fracking, Forest Fire Management and the Ethanol Mandate as well as widespread efforts to attract people of color to outdoor recreation.

In addition to these newsmaker sessions there are numerous craft improvement classes, including ways to stay relevant in the digital age.

I always return with a full notebook of ideas and a sense of excitement as I approach the second half of the year. I sit on the plane on the way back making a list of articles and features to undertake.

But here’s the problem; those ideas are almost always depressing to consider.

How can you explore the various threats to our natural resources without feeling down? Does anyone really believe that we can reverse the trend of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere in time to actually save life on earth? Or that we can stop ocean acidification?

So, although I come back energized and ready to write, I also come back depressed and concerned for the survival and happiness of my grandchildren and their kids.

But this year I found a reason for optimism, a beacon that may well mean something very important to us all.

I found a good man, a strong man, who has decided to stand up and work for our people, our lands and our heritage. While most of us, including me, get worn down and tired by the constant grind of bad news and people to whom money is the only measure of progress, Jack Ballard, one of the best writers and photographers in the world today, has remained as strong and as committed to the earth and our environment as the day I met him over 20 years ago.

Jack announced during the conference that he had decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat from the state of Montana. It will be an uphill slog; Jack has never held political office, but he has a great deal of name recognition and the people of Montana have a soft spot in their hearts for mavericks who speak their language and stand up for what’s right. Think Mark Hatfield in cowboy boots.

I’ve seen Jack stand up before, when the cause he championed cost him thousands of dollars of lost revenue. I know for a fact he will do so again when his cause is just. I’ve learned that the battle for our environment and natural resources is won or lost in meetings. I’m going to feel a whole lot better with a man like Ballard sitting in on those meetings at the top of our government.

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