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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Robinson was a conservation giant

by Bryan Hendricks | October 21, 2021 at 2:05 a.m.

Howard Robinson, an unsung conservation giant in Arkansas and one of my dearest friends, died Saturday near Waldron.

A consummate outdoorsman, Robinson did it all. An avid deer hunter, he believed that there was no need to hunt deer with anything but his 308 Tikka. He meant it, too. Nobody should hunt with anything besides a 308 Tikka.

There was only one way to do anything, and there was only one way to see anything, and that was the Howard Robinson way. He was a paragon of certitude, and it was a reef his friends had to navigate carefully.

It's also what made him effective as a conservationist. In 1995, the Defense Department announced it was putting a large amount of Fort Chaffee up for sale. Developers coveted the land, and they formed a committee with a curious moniker, the "Committee to Save Fort Chaffee."

An aggressive citizen with a lot of contacts in Washington formed a conservation based counter committee that caused the political establishment a lot of anxiety. The Committee to Save Fort Chaffee had few members, but it had a lot of money. The counter committee didn't have much money, but it had a lot of very angry, motivated voters. It was widely believed that the developers had given her a tidy sum of money to shut up and go away.

That's when Howard Robinson stepped in. A master organizer, he galvanized support and fought like a tiger to reserve a large portion of the property as green space. The Janet Huckabee Nature Center is a result of his efforts. I understand the politics involved in naming prominent facilities, but that nature center would not exist if not for Robinson.

When Seth Rowland of Hot Springs needed help lobbying the Game and Fish Commission to legalize big bore air rifles for deer hunting, he turned to Robinson. He addressed all of the commission's concerns, leveraged his contacts and helped create a new hunting opportunity.

As a volunteer hunter education instructor, and later as a representative for the United Sportsman's Caucus, Robinson taught outdoors skills to thousands of youngsters.

He organized and participated in scores of outdoors expos and jamborees, including many for the successful Becoming An Outdoor Woman program. An accomplished turkey hunter, he naturally got involved with the National Wild Turkey Federation. He was an accomplished trapper, so of course he was deeply involved with the Arkansas Trappers Association. Duck hunting was at the bottom of his preferences, but he was involved with Ducks Unlimited in Western Arkansas, as well.

The Arkansas Wildlife Association was Robinson's true love. He served two terms as president, and in that position he was influential in garnering public support for Amendment 75 and its one-eighth percent conservation sales tax to fund the Game and Fish Commission and Department of Parks and Tourism.

I attended many events with Robinson, from fur sales to wildlife skills jamborees, scouting jamborees and Arkansas Wildlife Federation events. If any kind of big public outdoors event was going on between Pine Bluff, Fort Smith and Mena, Howard would be there.

In 2004, Howard and I hunted deer together at Overton Bottoms Conservation Area near Rocheport, Mo. The only road into the place crossed a railroad track at the boundary. There were no gates, but there was a metal box to the side with a very bright light. You couldn't see the light until you were on the track, and then it looked like a train was on top of you. This provided me great amusement with everybody I took down there.

As Howard and I approached the track, I said, "They really ought to have some gates on this track. You can't see a damn thing down here, and if you're not careful, you can get run over by a ..."

We were in the middle of the track when that light was suddenly in Howard's face.

"TRAIN!" I screamed.

Howard was enormous, but he launched himself over the stick shift almost into my lap, smashing me against the driver's door like a bug. That was the only time I ever heard him curse. I had to stop the truck for laughing so hard.

"You got me," Robinson said. "You got me good. I'll get you back. I promise you, I will get you back!"

He never did, but he deserves to be got one last time, posthumously. Howard Robinson should be in the Arkansas Outdoors Hall of Fame.

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