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NWTF CEO steps down after 30 years

Feathers fly at NWTF headquarters; ‘Boss gobbler’ leaves the roost

After 30 years of service, including 27 years as the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF’s) chief executive officer, Rob Keck recently announced that he had decided to step down from his duties with the NWTF “for personal and family reasons” effective June 1, 2008.

The NWTF’s National Board of Directors “reluctantly accepted” his resignation, according to a March 26 NWTF press release. However, Keck’s resignation – which reportedly was a complete surprise to NWTF staff and the hunting industry – came just days after the NWTF Board of Directors reportedly forced Chief Operating Officer Carl Brown and Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Dick Rosenlieb to step down. Keck said he left for “personal and family reasons,” but other reports indicate that he had threatened to quit at least once before last year when the NWTF Board of Directors tried to fire Brown and Rosenlieb.

Sources close to the NWTF said that the NWTF Board of Directors attempted to remove Brown and Rosenlieb last October, but the move was stalled when Keck threatened to resign. Brown had worked for the NWTF for 28 years while Rosenlieb was a 19-year employee with the NWTF. The shake up in key management occurred around the same time the NWTF board conducted a financial audit and inquiry into management practices.

Keck was the longest-serving leader of a conservation group and was paid over $380,000 annually in 2006. His resignation is effective June 1 and NWTF officials said a nationwide search will be conducted for a replacement. Keck, who began his career as a high school art teacher, became a volunteer with the fledgling NWTF back in the mid-1970s. He joined the organization as an employee in 1978 and quickly rose to the ranks of CEO to become arguably the most identifiable leader of a conservation organization in the country. “I was at a point in my life were I decided it was time to make a change,” Keck said. He would not comment on if the firings of Brown and Rosenlieb led to the timing of his decision, citing health and family reasons for his decision.

In response to rampant rumors, NWTF President Peggy Anne Vallery issued a statement on April 1 stating, “The last week has been a time of transition for the National Wild Turkey Federation, and we appreciate everyone’s patience during this effort.” “He (Keck) resigned his post under his own will, and his presence within the ranks of the NWTF will be sorely missed,” Vallery said. “As NWTF’s family pulled together to manage this period of change, our brief inward focus allowed speculation to fill the information gap. Thus, we want to take this opportunity to clarify some important points.

“First, the NWTF annually undergoes an audit of its financial statements by a certified public accounting firm. The conclusion of the most recent audit, as has been the case with past audits, is the organization’s statements of position and activities received the highest level of opinion possible on their accuracy.” “In addition, no allegations of criminal activity have been made,” Vallery said. “While the organization has undergone change, it’s still made up of more than a half million of the most passionate and dedicated volunteers as well as our amazingly supportive and generous partners and sponsors. Because of all these wonderful people, we’re an organization that will emerge from this and move forward into an era of conservation success. We hope you’ll take that journey with us.” Under Keck’s leadership, the NWTF has grown into one of the nation’s premier conservation organizations, a grassroots, nonprofit organization with more than 550,000 members in 50 states, Canada, Mexico and 14 other foreign countries. Turkey populations have skyrocketed during Keck’s tenure, as the organization successfully partnered with state and federal wildlife agencies to relocate flocks and improve habitat. Keck is also perhaps the most recognized conservation group leader, known to many sportsmen through his role as host of the NWTF’s flagship television program, Turkey Call, which first aired in the late 1990s.

In an March 27 email letter to NWTF staff, volunteers, board members, partners and sponsors, Keck stated, “Although I have decided to step down on June 1 as NWTF’s CEO after 30 years of working for the wild turkey, I want you to know how much it has meant to me to work with North America’s most dedicated hunter conservationists.” “You have been such an important part of my life, and I thank you for the commitment you’ve shown to make this organization the greatest in the conservation world. Today, I want to express how important it is that you forge ahead with your work to conserve the wild turkey and uphold our hunting heritage,” Keck wrote. “During this busy season, we must step up and ensure there is no slippage in the number and quality of our events. Nor should we give anything less than our very best service to this organization’s great volunteers, partners and sponsors. Now more than ever, we must work hard to secure the future of what we’ve built,” Keck added. “Together, we’ve created a rock-solid foundation based on sound principles and an important mission that is supported by innovative programs and dedicated people. It would be a tremendous disservice to those who have sacrificed so much to bring us to where we are today – a leader and a model in the conservation world – to quit or neglect our commitment to this organization and the people that make it special,” he wrote. “NWTF has a history of doing well both in good times and bad. I have complete confidence in the future of the NWTF, that it will remain dedicated to our mission. I, as well, remain committed to you. And with your continuing dedication to the organization, our wildlife resources and all the wonderful people we’re associated with, we’ll come through this better than ever,” Keck concluded.

The NWTF stated that Keck would “remain at the helm” until June 1 to help guide the organization and 18-member volunteer board through the transition period. “While the organization has undergone change, it’s still made up of more than a half million of the most passionate and dedicated volunteers, as well as our amazingly supportive and generous partners and sponsors,” Vallery said. “Because of all these wonderful people, we’re an organization that will emerge from this and move forward into an era of conservation success. We’re excited about what Team NWTF can accomplish next on behalf of our mission to conserve the wild turkey and preserve our hunting heritage. Together, we are strong.”

In 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded in Fredericksburg, Va. At that time, there were an estimated 1.3 million wild turkeys and 1.5 million turkey hunters. Shortly after its founding, the NWTF moved to Edgefield, S.C., where it is headquartered today. Thanks to the work of federal, state and provincial wildlife agencies and the NWTF’s many volunteers and partners, there are now more than 7 million wild turkeys and nearly 3 million turkey hunters. Turkey hunting has become the fastest growing form of hunting and has the second-highest number of participants of any type of hunting. Since 1985, more than $258 million NWTF and cooperator dollars have been spent on upholding hunting traditions and conserving more than 13.1 million acres of wildlife habitat. Hunters have also benefited as the NWTF has worked tirelessly to support our hunting heritage and protect and promote laws that increase hunting opportunity and safety.