Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow
Most of the professionals who work in natural resources, and are age 50 or better, began with an interest in natural resources because one of their parents was a hunter. For those with gray hair or a slight balding spot, hunting was something that we enjoyed and really wanted to do and couldn’t wait until we got our first .22 rifle or shotgun.
But for many, if not most, of the students who are majoring in natural resources at various colleges and universities today, they grew up in an urban environment and they don’t hunt. Some surveys indicate that more than 50% of recent graduates from wildlife science programs have never hunted. For some it was not an active choice, but their parents or close relatives did not hunt and they just never had the opportunity to begin hunting.
Yet these same students will be graduating in natural resources, and going on to work at various state natural resources departments, or for federal agencies, or non-profit conservation organizations. They will be coming into contact with hunters, perhaps in the field when working as a conservation warden or wildlife biologist, and they will someday be leaders in the organizations responsible for purchasing land for recreational uses, setting hunting regulations, and developing policies to guide these organizations into the future.
One program that is attempting to inform these students about why hunting is important from a biological, social, cultural, economic and recreational standpoint, is Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow. It actually started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus where emeritus professor Scott Craven, and some of his colleagues, along with employees of the Department of Natural Resources, began the Wisconsin Student Hunter Project. It was designed to highlight the many contributions that hunters have made to the conservation movement, and the many positive values of hunting.
The program grew and came to the attention of the Wildlife Management Institute in Washington, D.C. WMI executive vice president, Dick McCabe, a native of Madison, Wisconsin, was able to bring outdoor companies and agencies together to help sponsor national programs known as Conservation leaders for Tomorrow (CLfT). These are held at the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation in Dundee, Illinois, and other locations around the country.
This past February, 18 students had the opportunity to take the program at Max McGraw. The students were majoring in natural resources at UW-Madison, UW-Stevens Point, Iowa State University, and the University of Missouri. In addition, two students from Georgia and Michigan State participated. Normally there are more students who would like to participate than can be accommodated in the workshop, so upper classmen or graduate students have the best chance of being accepted into the program.
McCabe stresses that the idea of CLfT is not to recruit or train students to become hunters.
“Instead the objective is to provide students with insights into why hunting is important, through open discussion and hands-on learning. They gain an understanding of the important role hunting plays in conservation,” McCabe said.
The four-day program includes roundtable discussions that address the biological basis for hunting, the role of hunting in wildlife management, hunting ethics and morality, hunter responsibilities, and hunting safety. The students then had field exercises to learn safe handling and use of firearms, training and handling of dogs, hunting skills and strategies, and trap shooting.
Students must pass a hunter safety class, and then the culmination is an opportunity to participate in, or observe, a pheasant hunt for stocked pheasants behind a trained hunting dog. Each student is paired with an adult mentor who monitors each student paying particular attention to where the muzzle of the shotgun is pointing.
The students have the opportunity to talk about the experience and discuss their feelings about hunting, as well as enjoying a pheasant dinner following the hunt.
This past February, 18 students completed the program at the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation. Each of the students passed his/her Hunter Safety test and each now knows more about hunting, its importance in wildlife management and the importance of people committed to conservation than they did going into the workshop.
It would really be wonderful if a lot more people in today’s world of urban, video-oriented society could attend the same workshop. They might have a better understanding of where their meat comes from, and how sportsmen/conservationists have been critical to the development of conservation programs in North America.