The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) cooperative exchange program, “Walk A Mile In My Boots,” was honored with the 2005 Touchstone Award given by the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI). The joint initiative, launched in 2003, gives cattle ranchers and FWS employees an unprecedented opportunity to learn about each other’s lifestyles.

 “We’re very pleased with the recognition for the ‘Walk A Mile In My Boots’ program.  This reinforces our belief that environmental management and natural resource protection can best be achieved through partnerships such as the one we have with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” says Jay Truitt, NCBA’s vice president of government affairs.  “Programs such as these can serve as models for increasing understanding between industry, government and environmentalists, whose mutual goal is conservation of the lands we work on everyday.”

The WMI Touchstone Award is given to a natural resource management professional or group of professionals in the public or private sector whose innovative efforts and initiatives within the past 24 months have resulted in significant advances for resource conservation and management. Steve Williams, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Mr. Truitt accepted the award at a March 18 reception held in conjunction with the 70th Annual North American and Natural Resources Conference. 

Any cattle producer or FWS employee can apply for the exchange program, and the average length of the actual exchange runs 2-10 days. The coordinators help place cattlemen in an exchange that is local and relevant to personal interests. Cattle ranchers can visit an FWS field office, refuge or regional office, or travel to FWS headquarters in Washington.  They can shadow biologists, educators, conduct field activities or attend government meetings.  Outdoor activities might include participating in a migratory bird study, performing water control monitoring, sampling fish or assisting with endangered species studies.

FWS employees can visit a cattle ranch and, depending on the season, help with branding, vaccinating calves, moving and feeding cattle, irrigating pastures, mending and building fences and haying.  The program fosters a greater understanding between FWS staff and cattle ranchers.

“The ‘Walk A Mile In My Boots’ program is worthy of the 2005 Touchstone Award because it has provided a very creative and meaningful way for cattlemen and natural resource managers to gain and appreciate each other’s professional perspective, thereby helping to bridge or avoid misunderstanding about the relationship of each other to the national landscape,” says WMI Executive Director Richard McCabe.  “The program was not only creative in its conception, but was implemented expediently in 2003, and has produced positive and measured results.”