By Kevin Kelly
Kentucky Afield Outdoors
Steve Beam gained a foothold with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources more than two decades ago by working as a seasonal wildlife technician. In the years since, he climbed the departmental ladder and in May was appointed director of the Wildlife Division.
"I feel like I've hit every rung on the ladder," said Beam, who served as regional coordinator for the Southeast Wildlife Region before moving into his present role. "I think it gives me a unique perspective. When I look at the budget, I probably think about it a little different because I know what may look like a small thing in the overall budget is important to that person in the field who's trying to deliver habitat on the ground and provide service to hunters and to the public."
The 42-year-old, who is an avid deer and turkey hunter, recently sat down for an interview at Kentucky Fish and Wildlife headquarters in Frankfort. The following are excerpts from that interview.
How would you sum up your first months on the job?
Beam: It's been exciting. I'm still on a steep learning curve. There are still a lot of things I need to learn. We have a lot of opportunity here and a lot of good work going on. I've gone out and met with almost everybody in the division. To just hear what projects are going on, what things they're working on, it's amazing. Everybody is out there doing good work.
Of the projects you just referenced, what are the ones that you're most excited about?
Beam: How habitat-focused we are excites me because that's something I truly believe in. I'm really excited about how seriously Wildlife Division staff takes providing additional opportunity. The Voucher Cooperator Elk Permit Program is a good example of that.
The Voucher Cooperator Elk Permit Program opens more than 100,000 acres of private land for drawn quota elk hunters this year. Is there something more in the works that may lead to expanded hunting access in the state?
Beam: We are exploring every avenue and every opportunity. One thing that I would like to highlight outside of the elk voucher opportunity, which has been a big success, is how much acreage in eastern Kentucky has been opened through public hunting or wildlife management agreements. It's more than 170,000 acres. Those give us access for elk, but also open up that land for other hunting.
Where do things stand today with regard to the efforts to improve habitat for grouse and other woodland species in eastern Kentucky?
Beam: We are in the process of hiring a new biologist who will focus on spearheading that effort. It looks like our first round of funding for the additional habitat work is going to be right on schedule. While we don't have the written plan as of yet, I know program staff in Frankfort and field staff in the Northeast and Southeast wildlife regions have a lot of ideas about how to focus some of that money. Grouse habitat is a slow process. Most of the cuts are going to be six to 10 years before they're really good grouse habitat. This is not as quick of a turnaround as you see with other small game species like rabbits and quail where you do habitat work and a year or two later you start seeing major responses. With grouse, obviously you have to look at the food resource, but the main issue is just the stem density.
Advances in technology are revolutionizing the sport of hunting. With all of the cutting-edge equipment on the market today, where might it lead from here?
Beam: It's impossible to predict where we go now. I think technology is the proverbial double-edged sword. It can be so wonderful. Think about what you can do with a paper map and a GPS. Last year, I took a buck with a .30-06 rifle. That's technology that hasn't changed much over the years. But then you look at how much bows have changed in 100 years. And trail cameras? I think trail cameras have helped hunters learn about deer and animal behavior in general. I think that engages people and makes them more knowledgeable. But there are some technological advances that we really have to be careful with. Most technology taken too far can take you beyond fair chase. I think there are some potential pitfalls with the drone technology. As hunters and conservationists, we have to be very cognizant of what we're doing and try to envision the possible impacts.
(Editor's note: Author Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.)