Affiliate Program Aims to Empower Returning War Veterans Through Conservation and Angling

National Wildlife Federation’s Oregon affiliate, the Association of Northwest Steelheaders (ANWS), is preparing to launch an exciting and innovative program that aims to help returning war veterans develop new skills and ways of responding to stress while learning to preserve wildlife and the natural habitats that support them.

River Ambassadors

The River Ambassador Program is designed with two goals in mind: to teach the value of preserving wildlife and natural habitats and to assist veterans in developing new skill sets that allow them to better respond to the stress and challenges that inevitably accompanies the return to civilian life.

The program’s initial three-day course, scheduled for September 13-16 near Madras, Oregon, is the brainchild of ANWS’s Executive Director Russell Bassett. A recent Iraq veteran himself, Bassett can speak personally to the great therapeutic healing properties found in the sport of angling and in experiencing the great outdoors. “Angling helps develop coping skills that help alleviate stress and helps find inner peace and a sense of serenity,” said Bassett. “Although the course speaks of life found in rivers and streams through the eyes of the angler, the connection is intentionally to get the participants to integrate successfully back into civilian life and to be life-long stewards of the environment. Respect for nature and its inhabitants are our core focus. The program will foster respect for our differences yet simultaneously celebrate what we have in common as war veterans, a high regard for natural habitats, the sport of fishing and our human bond.”

Participants in the program will have the opportunity to learn the skills of river and nautical reading, and will learn about salmonid life history and conservation, entomology, and different fishing techniques, including fly fishing for trout and steelhead and gear fishing for salmon and steelhead. A guided drift-fishing trip completes the program on the last day. Each participant will receive a full set of fishing gear (rod, reel, lines, flies, lures) for their use during the program and to keep and continue their process on the river wherever life takes them.

Free to Qualified Members of the Military

ANWS’s River Ambassador Program is offered free of charge to qualified members of the military who have recently returned from deployment. With the success of September’s pilot program, plans call for expanding to at least two programs a year in coming years. But that depends on securing adequate program funding and support. Donations of funds or of guiding, rods or equipment to support this terrific program can be made by contacting ANWS via,, or 503-653-4176.

Learn more about the River Ambassador Program here: