North Carolina Loses Wildlife Hero Eddie Bridges
Last updated 5/31/2021 at 10:29am
North Carolina has a lot to be proud of when it comes to natural resources and conservation. The first national forest and game preserve east of the Mississippi, Shinning Rock Wilderness, has been a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System since it was formed in 1964.
The first forest plan in the Western hemisphere and America's first school of forestry, coincidentally took place in or near Transylvania County. While today we enjoy the fruits of these accomplishments, it often boils down to individuals who dreamed and worked to make all the parts come together.
Gifford Pinchot, who first came to Pisgah as Vanderbilt's forester, later became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Were his ties to Pisgah one of the reasons the U.S. Forest Service later took ownership?
If John Muir had not advocated for wilderness would the National Wilderness Preservation System have been established 50 years after his passing?
We can 'what if' all day, but there is no denying the impacts these two men had on our country and this county. This past week, the state lost a conservation hero who was cut from the same cloth, a dreamer and a doer. His work for wildlife and its habitat will continue for generations.
I met Eddie Bridges about 20 years ago while serving on the executive council of the N.C. Bowhunters Association. Eddie was founder and executive director of the North Carolina Wildlife Habitat Foundation (NCWHF), and he attended our meetings regularly has a partner.
At the time I did not know all of his accomplishments until 2004, when I learned he was named Budweiser's Conservationist of the Year. I was intrigued by what he had accomplished for wildlife habitat through his foundation, but that was only a portion, as I learned more of his work before starting NCWHF 1992.
Eddie was born in Morganton, N.C., in 1933. He was an outstanding athlete, both in high school and at Elon College, breaking several school records in track and field. Eddie was dedicated to wildlife conservation work and was appointed to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources (NCWRC) in 1977, where he served two, six-year terms.
During his time on the commission he proposed and helped to develop the North Carolina Lifetime Hunting and Fishing Licenses and the North Carolina Wildlife Endowment Fund, which was later named after him by the General Assembly. Before leaving his second term he proposed the North Carolina Waterfowl Stamp and the North Carolina Tax Check Off program.
The endowment fund itself, funded by lifetime hunting and fishing license sales and supplemented by other donations, has grown to over $123.5 million. The principle is held in escrow, with the interest being spent each year. Today, around $50 million has been spent on wildlife projects and programs across the state.
After his term on the commission, he started NCWHF and continued his dedication for wildlife conservation, with over $500,000 raised for projects, over 200 acres of land acquired and put into the game lands program and conservation easements managed in 23 counties.
While this is impressive, his dedication to introducing youth to the outdoors and partnering with others on behalf of conservation is inspiring on its own.
For his work, he received over 40 conservation awards, including the Field and Stream Conservationist of the Year award in 2012, the Governor's Award from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation in 1993, appointment to the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state's highest honor in 2013, and was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2019 as the first hunter/ angler conser-vation sportsman.
(Whitmire is co-owner of Headwaters Outfitters and is actively involved in local conservation efforts, such as the French Broad River cleanup and wildlife rehabilitation programs. He is also chair of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council.)