In addition to a remarkable shooting career that included winning three Olympic gold medals, New York attorney Karl T. Frederick was deeply involved in conservation issues. In the early 1900s, through membership in groups like the Camp Fire Club of America, he became involved in national issues as well as regional ones. Foremost among them was the battle to protect the Adirondacks. He supported the club’s stance, recommending the purchase of private land inside the Blue Line for addition to the state Forest Preserve, and advocating for expansion of the Adirondack Park, which at that time consisted of approximately three million acres— half of what it encompasses in 2016.
His law practice was briefly derailed when the company disbanded, but in 1925, the new legal firm of Kobbe, Thatcher, Frederick & Hoar, with offices on Broadway, began handling cases ranging from high-profile divorces to corporate litigation. Besides further enhancing Karl’s profile as a capable lawyer, it expanded his connections among like-minded business leaders who favored protecting the natural world. In time, his respected abilities as an attorney and his deep interest in preserving the nation’s outdoor resources led to an unusual blending of leadership positions on the state and national levels.
In 1927, he served as president of the Camp Fire Club of America, whose self-described purpose was “to bring together hunters, anglers, explorers, and naturalists, individuals who subscribe to the principles of adventure and fellowship in the great outdoors, and to further the interests of sports afield and wildlife conservation.”
In 1929 he was appointed to the board of directors of the American Game Protective Association. Two years later, he became a vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), a special consultant to the National Council of Commissioners on Uniform Laws, and a member of the National Crime Commission. Those were very important positions at a time when a crime wave was sweeping across America, epitomized by frequent and deadly gunplay linked to Al Capone in Chicago and gangsters in New York City during Prohibition.
Frederick supported the average citizen’s right to own a pistol, and urged harsh penalties for anyone using guns in the commission of crimes. But the NRA was not the creature it has become today. As a world champion competitive marksman, he was more than familiar with the skill required for safely handling and accurately using a firearm. Because of that, he fought to defend the public’s right to own handguns or long guns for home protection, but discouraged the right to “open carry,” which he felt endangered other law-abiding citizens.
After moving up the ladder in the NRA, he assumed the presidency in 1934, serving for a year in that capacity. But for his entire life, Karl focused on two things: aiding the efforts of U.S. Olympians competing in shooting sports, and preserving the nation’s forests and wildlife.
As a conservationist, he was deeply concerned about the future of New York’s Forest Preserve. In 1933, he co-founded the New York State Conservation Council (NYSCC) and served for nine years as its president, remaining active thereafter as chairman of the board and an interested member. In New York, he headed the city’s Committee on Conservation of Forests and Wild Life. In 1939 he became a director of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
While still president of the NYSCC in 1940, he brought landowners (especially farmers) together with conservationists and sportsmen for a three-day conference, forming alliances that allowed public access (with permissions requested) to thousands of acres of private property. The influence he wielded was considerable, for by that time, the organization represented about 550 clubs, comprising New York’s first statewide organization linking conservationists and sportsmen.
In 1947, when a New York commission began study of a perceived small-game shortage, he acted as a special representative on behalf of the American Game Association and the NWF. Four years later, he served on an 18-man advisory board studying the problems affecting New York’s Forest Preserve, which consisted of 2.5 million acres. At issue was the state constitution’s Forever Wild clause in relation to harvesting trees leveled by the Big Blowdown of 1950, which damaged approximately 800,000 acres.
That same year (1951), he was elected as a vice president of the NWF, and a year later became director of the American Forestry Association (AFA). In 1953, he chaired a panel session of the Fourth American Forest Congress in Washington, D. C., that was sponsored by the AFA. Attendees included “nearly 1000 foresters and timber industry executives,” the latter of whom were probably less than thrilled at much of the subject matter. The focus was on public lands being over-managed by companies solely interested in timber production. Dr. Paul Herbert, a fellow vice president of the NWF and director of conservation at Michigan State College, spoke to the issue directly. “Very few forestry schools now require any instruction in wildlife and fisheries management, recreation, or water conservation, and none of them require all three,” he said. Those were also the main concerns of Frederick regarding the future of the Adirondacks and the Forest Preserve.
For decades, he and other noted conservationists, including Paul Schaefer, battled repeatedly to protect the waters and forests of the Adirondacks by strongly opposing projects like the Panther Mountain Dam on the Moose River, which was approved by the state legislature. Because of their organizing efforts and very public opposition, voters ultimately rejected the plan. Other similar projects met the same fate.
In 1959, Karl chaired the 24th North American Wildlife Conference at the Statler-Hilton in New York City. The theme for the three-day meeting was “Resources, People, and Space,” with the goal of addressing “all phases of fish and game restoration, and management of our natural resources.”
That same year, he was referred to as the “nationally known … dean of New York State conservationists, and chairman of the State Conservation Council” when he came out in favor of building the Northway. The new highway, he said, would directly affect a few parcels totaling seven miles of Forest Preserve, an admitted downside to the project. On the other hand, it would provide lateral access on the east to other roads leading into the Adirondacks, and would at the same time preclude the need for any future, thruway-type arteries reaching into the mountains.
As vice president of the U.S. Revolver Club and vice president of the Boone & Crockett Club (1953–55), he saw no conflict with hikers, nature lovers, canoeists, and the like. Public lands, he believed, were to be preserved for the enjoyment of all citizens in their own way, within guidelines that retained the integrity of the land and water.
He had too many other affiliations and memberships to cover here, but among them were the Wilderness Club of Philadelphia, the Izaak Walton League, the New York Zoological Society, and the American Museum of Natural History. He was a fellow of the American Geographic Society and a member of the National Audubon Association. He aspired to the ethics of legendary Adirondack conservationist John Bird Burnham, and served as a pallbearer when Burnham died in 1939.
In 1956, Karl received the Camp Fire Club of America Medal of Honor “for his distinguished representation of the United States at the Olympic games, and his outstanding work as a conservationist.” The United States Congressional Record defines the Camp Fire Club as “one of the most prestigious hunting and conservation organizations in the country. Its code of ethics stresses that the wildlife of today is not ours to do with as we please, but was given to us in trust for the benefit both of the present and the future. They also believe that it is the duty of every person who finds pleasure in the wilderness or in the pursuit of game to actively support the protection of forests and wildlife.”
Sounds like the club was right on target in choosing Karl Frederick as their honoree.
Photos: Karl T. Frederick (1922); headline (1958)
A version of this article was first published on the Adirondack Almanack.