Preaching to the choir – A colloquial phrase that means delivering a message to an audience that believes the same thing you do. Sound like your chapter?
As SCI members we need to expand our audience and take our message to the masses that, perhaps unknowingly, threaten our hunting legacy. Recently SCI had the privilege of working the Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation booth at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, Washington. Jeff Christiansen, WWC Board Member, created a remarkable tactile display that informs, educates and changes attitudes with respect to the use of hunting as a wildlife management tool. Jeff invited SCI, as well as other member organizations that make up WWC, to share our message with the uninformed, the apathetic and yes, the “Anti-Everythings.”
The experience was quite eye opening. Now before you say, “Why should I subject myself to the naysayers?”, let me tell you that over two days we talked with hundreds of people and only three approached us with comments that implied they were life members of the Anti-Everything Organization. The overwhelming majority of those who stopped by to touch the animal pelts, trace the wildlife hoof and paw prints and/or rub the antlers, horns and skulls were mostly unaware of the role hunting plays in wildlife management but, very receptive and completely appreciative of hearing the facts about the North American model for Wildlife Conservation. Are the majority of these individuals going to pursue hunting as a new recreational venture? Probably not, however a large majority of the visitors to our booth VOTE! Thus, when I heard one woman say, “I don’t remember, but I probably voted to ban cougar hunting with hounds and didn’t realize the impact this would have on wildlife. We are seeing cougars everywhere! Why weren’t we told this would happen?”, my toes curled. This was a teachable moment! I presented a quick lesson on the importance of using the appropriate hunting method based on the species. After our short conversation, she understood and asked what could be done to repeal the ban. Yes, it’s frustrating after the fact, however now we have an ally in the voting booth. Seriously, the misinformation and the lack of awareness is mind-boggling and we need to change these attitudes. It can be done and it begins with education. How do we start?
First…WE NEED TO EDUCATE CHILDREN! The Hands On Wildlife kit is one way. As a member have you seen the new kit? If not, ask your president and Board to budget this expenditure for next year. We should be flooding our schools and outdoor education programs with HOW kits.
Next…WE NEED TO BE EDUCATING PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH OUR YOUTH! How many teachers and/or individuals who work with youth are you sending to AWLS every year? We posted a sign on the front of the fair booth, which read, “If you are a teacher or work with youth you need to talk to us.” This simple sign was a showstopper. We shared the HOW kit and talked about AWLS. And what phrase did we hear repeatedly? “Why haven’t I heard about this before?”
Finally…WE NEED TO BE EDUCATING THE VOTING POPULATION! We need to step out of our comfort zone and take our message to the general public. Every SCI chapter in their state is close to a county or state fair. Rent booth space or partner with another organization such as WWC. Sportsmen shows are great, and we do need to garner more members from the hunting community; however we also need to focus on those who are not sportsmen and/or hunters and whose vote can and has damaged our conservation efforts and threatened our hunting legacy. A seven-year-old boy who was part of a school group came through our booth, looked up at us and said, “But killing any animal is bad.” The look on his face was not one of anger or fear, but confusion. Without knowing the facts of the role hunting plays in wildlife management how do you think he will vote in his adult life? Lastly, over our two day experience, the most repeated phrase we heard was, “Thank you; I didn’t know.” I encourage all chapters to find time and money to invest in conservation and hunting through education. Thanks for your efforts in sharing the SCI message and have a great Fall Hunting Season!--Deborah Barrett Region 1 Representative SCI