Michigan Wildlife Council aims to make connections with public

Michigan’s hunters and anglers have long known the feeling: a deep connection to the state’s forests and waters and a strong desire to conserve them for future generations.

Now, the Michigan Wildlife Council is working to crystallize similar sentiments among the state’s overall population, including the vast majority of people who don’t hunt or fish but generally approve of both activities.

Created by the state legislature in 2013, the Michigan Wildlife Council is charged with educating the public about the importance of conservation and wildlife management – including hunting and fishing – to preserving the state’s outdoor heritage.

The central theme of the council’s education campaign is that all state residents, however they use the outdoors, benefit from the scientifically based management of our forests and waters.

This effort highlights the key role of hunters and anglers in funding conservation projects – something not even a significant proportion of sportsmen and sportswomen fully understand or appreciate, according to preliminary research.

“Many non-hunters love the outdoors every bit as much as those of us who do hunt or fish,” said Matt Pedigo, chairman of the Michigan Wildlife Council, whose nine volunteer members are appointed by the governor.

“What we’re aiming to do is build on those shared values,” he said. “We’re helping people make the connection that what we do as hunters and anglers helps make possible what they enjoy doing – and it also helps ensure that our state’s great outdoor resources will be there for future generations to experience.”

Building the case for conservation, wildlife management

Hunting and fishing is an important part of Michigan’s outdoor heritage and a crucial method of conserving our state’s natural resources. Research has shown that the general public appreciates Michigan’s outdoor heritage, but is unaware of the important role it plays in conserving our wildlife.

“The Michigan Wildlife Council’s goal has been to help non-sportsmen who have limited knowledge of conservation practices understand what is required to conserve and manage our forests, waters and wildlife,” Pedigo said.

Part of that message involves highlighting how hunters and anglers – both financially and by simply participating in their activities – are integral to conservation and wildlife management.

“Essentially, we’re aiming to generate understanding and appreciation for how hunters and anglers demonstrate responsibility for healthy animal populations and environments by leading wildlife and habitat conservation funding and initiatives,” he said.

Since it began its education campaign, the council has shared stories in a range of news outlets – social media, TV, magazines and newspapers – about the men and women who tirelessly work or volunteer to protect our resources. For example, it has produced stories about the decades of work that have gone into restoring the state’s elk, lake sturgeon, peregrine falcon, Karner blue butterfly and wild turkey populations.

The stories typically are not told directly from a hunting or fishing perspective. Rather, the outreach efforts are geared toward a general audience in the population centers of West and Southeast Michigan.

“Our research shows that while most Michiganders are supportive of hunting – with more than 80 percent of residents strongly or at least moderately approving of it ­– they aren’t necessarily interested in reading about hunting techniques or seeing pictures of harvested game,” Pedigo said.

But just like hunters and anglers, the general public values the emotions, experiences and memories tied to the enjoyment of the outdoors. Michigan Wildlife Council is striving to build on those shared connections – while at the same time positioning sportsmen as the original conservationists, committed to protecting and preserving our outdoor resources.

Clearing up misconceptions

Describing sportsmen as conservationists is likely to seem incongruent to members of the general public. They don’t necessarily grasp the notion that hunters who shoot animals in fact care deeply for the well-being of wildlife and are stewards of our natural resources.

Surprisingly, Michigan Wildlife Council research shows that even avid sportsmen are unclear about their important role in conservation and the benefits they derive from Michigan’s natural resources as a result of hunting, fishing and the taking of game.

For example, an unexpectedly high number of sportsmen and sportswomen were unaware that they are the primary funders of conservation work through their purchases of hunting and fishing licenses and gear. This critical work is not funded through state taxes.

The better that sportsmen and sportswomen understand the positive impact they have on our state through wildlife management, the better they can help non-sportsmen and non-sportswomen appreciate and understand their shared love of the outdoors.

“As partners in conservation and wildlife management, we all have a respect for wildlife,” Pedigo said. “But when people know how hunting and fishing impact our forests, waters and wildlife, their appreciation of our outdoor heritage will only grow.”

The Michigan Wildlife Council’s research shows that support for hunting and fishing grows when the public is aware of the many benefits those activities provide – from wildlife conservation projects to supporting our state’s economy. The same research also found that non-hunters appreciate outdoor traditions when they know it is done in a humane, legal and regulated manner.

“We don’t need to defend our beliefs and traditions,” Pedigo said. “We have plenty to be proud of. But to safeguard our outdoor heritage, we need non-sportsmen to understand and respect our hunting heritage. And that depends on us.”

And with the public’s attention drawn to hunting now that firearm deer season is upon us, there is no better time to make that case.

More information about the Michigan Wildlife Council and its efforts to promote conservation and wildlife management is available at HereForMIOutdoors.org.

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