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Emmett Burroughs and the Mule Deer Foundation

04/24/2018 11:00AM ● By Jon Lewis

On Point

May 2018
By Jon Lewis
Photos by Jen Peterson

THIRTY YEARS AGO, Emmett Burroughs was in one of his favorite elements, the high-desert backcountry of Southern Nevada, and doing what he loved: hunting mule deer.

Burroughs and his hunting partner had already enjoyed some success and the Redding resident was scanning the brushy terrain for another buck when he had an epiphany. After a lifetime of traveling throughout the West and enjoying the challenge and camaraderie of hunting, wasn’t it time to give back to the deer? 

“That’s when I came to the realization to do something. Somebody had to do something to give back to these majestic animals and that’s how it started,” Burroughs says. The “it” is the Mule Deer Foundation, which Burroughs founded in July 1988 after he assembled 15 friends and fellow hunters and asked them to join him in committing to the conservation of mule deer and black-tailed deer and their habitat.

After incorporating as a nonprofit organization, the Foundation held its first banquet at a Redding hotel; some 400 people attended and the event raised more than $55,000. From those humble roots, the Foundation has grown to become one of the country’s leading wildlife conservation groups. To date, its programs have led to the restoration of more than 2 million acres of deer habit in the western United States. There are close to 300 chapters across the country with a combined membership of about 15,000. More than 50,000 people attended the Foundation’s annual Western Hunting & Conservation Expo in February in Salt Lake City. 

Burroughs was moved to act when he noticed mule deer populations failed to recover after a particularly had winter in 1983-84. Predators and poachers were claiming a number of deer; more crucially, cities, highways and subdivisions were continuing to gobble up historic mule deer habitat.

Compounding the problem was the lack of adequate funding for state and federal wildlife agencies and management philosophies that were often at odds with the hunters buying the expensive licenses and deer tags that funded those agencies.

“I thought everybody wanted to step up and support these critters. That was not true. It turns out hunters are the first conservationists,” Burroughs says. “So I created the Foundation and its mission to ensure the conservation of mule deer, blacktails (the genetic cousins of mule deer) and their habitat. It was hard. I created a ship for everybody to get on, but we needed to fill the sails and make it go, and that takes work and money.” 

Burroughs stepped down as executive director and chairman of the board after two years, turning the Foundation over to more experienced organization builders while he focused on his project management and consulting work and supporting the Foundation’s Shasta/Lassen Chapter. Lately he has been working to bolster the Foundation’s endowment.

An impressive 92 percent of contributions to the Foundation are used to support its mission, which in recent years has included replanting native grasses and shrubs, removing invasive pinyon-juniper trees, maintaining wildlife “guzzlers” to combat the ravages of droughts, restoring critical habitat after wildfires and funding DNA research to aid in anti-poaching enforcement and herd management.

From its start in Redding, the Foundation relocated its headquarters to Reno, Nev., in 1992. After some up and down years, the Foundation moved its base to Salt Lake City in 2006 “and it took off like a rocket,” Burroughs says.

Work continues at the local level, too, thanks in part to a chapter rewards program that allows chapters like Shasta/Lassen to keep a portion of the money it raises and use those funds to benefit North State mule deer herds. The North State chapter’s annual fundraiser is set for Friday, May 11, at the Win-River Event Center.

“It’s been a good journey,” Burroughs says. “I didn’t know which direction it was going and now there are hundreds of people in the organization who care about the wellbeing of deer and I’m proud to be related to that. And not just because I founded it. We have an awesome team. There are just so many amazing stories you hear every year at the Expo.” 

In addition to his work with the Foundation, Burroughs has served on the Redding Planning Commission and the State Fair Board. He’s a member of the Turtle Bay Board of Regents and the Rotary Club of Redding. Burroughs and his wife, Vicky, have five children. •

Mule Deer Foundation Shasta/Lassen Chapter Banquet

5:30 pm Friday, May 11, Win-River Event Center

Tickets: $85 per person, $135 per couple; table for eight,

$700; table for 10, $850

Includes dinner, live and silent auctions and drawings, and

an annual membership to the Mule Deer Foundation

Call (530) 351-1149 for tickets