BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Game wardens, fisheries biologists and other personnel in the fish and game departments of Texas and Florida were among the first responders in the back-to-back catastrophic hurricanes that slammed those two states.
After those heroes worked tirelessly to rescue people from flooded and storm-ravaged homes, many of them returned from duty to find their own homes severely damaged or destroyed. In response to their losses and in recognition of their sacrifices, B.A.S.S. is launching a fundraising campaign through its innovative Bassmaster LIVE broadcasts from the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship this week at Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota. The first-ever Bassmaster LIVE “telethon” will take place during coverage of the year-end championship, which will crown the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and determine berths in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
More than 100,000 fishing fans will tune in for the LIVE shows, which are streamed on Bassmaster.com this week and WatchESPN from 7-10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
“In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the needs are so great they’re mind-boggling,” said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO. “We want to do whatever we can to help, and we also want to be confident that these funds go directly to the people who need it most. That’s why we’re proud to partner with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida to directly benefit the men and women of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”
The two foundations are non-profit organizations dedicated to providing private funding to help their respective conservation agencies protect and improve fish and wildlife resources.
“Knowing that things like this would happen, we set up a fund sometime back to provide emergency relief for our fish and wildlife workers,” said Andy Walker, president and CEO of the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida. “That fund was exhausted in the first 48 hours.”
Because of the nature of their jobs, a disproportionate number of Florida fish and wildlife employees live and work in coastal areas - especially the Florida Keys - that received the brunt of Irma’s fury, he said. Anne Brown, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, added that numerous parks and wildlife employees also reside in coastal areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey, and more than 100 have been displaced due to damage or loss of their homes. The foundation has raised and distributed about $250,000 for the relief effort so far.
During the LIVE broadcasts, hosts Tommy Sanders and Davy Hite will interview Elite anglers and B.A.S.S. Nation members from Texas and Florida, including some who used their own boats to rescue people stranded in the floods. Officials in both states have commended fishermen and hunters for their quick response and credited them for saving numerous lives.
Walker noted that 150 wildlife and fisheries workers from Florida worked “around the clock” in Texas to help rescue people there, and more than 350 Texas Parks and Wildlife employees reciprocated by converging on Florida this week to help in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Akin also pointed out that a number of B.A.S.S. sponsors have been active in relief efforts. Yamaha and G3 provided boats to be used in the Houston rescue operation, as did Tracker dealers in the area.
And Toyota is working with the St. Bernard Project (SBP) - an initiative launched in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana - with a long-term view of recovery.
“In this spirit, we spent $1 million to establish our long-time partner, the St Bernard Project, in southeast Texas,” said Mike Goss, president of Toyota USA Foundation. “They are helping people mitigate mold and avoid contractor fraud, and they help the uninsured navigate government funding. Eventually, SBP will rebuild homes for residents who cannot afford it on their own.
“Often this entire process takes many years in the wake of a huge disaster, so Toyota wants to help make full recovery go faster.”
Fans who tune in to the Bassmaster LIVE shows beginning Thursday will be given directions on how they can donate to the relief efforts. Those who want to help fish and wildlife personnel in Florida can contribute to a fund set up by the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida: https://www.fishwildlifeflorida.org/irma/.
The Texas foundation has set up two funds: the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Employee Relief Fund ( www.tpwf.org/employee-harvey-relief) and the Restoration of Natural Resources Fund ( www.tpwf.org/resources-harvey-relief ).