Conservation Heroes for Tomorrow

Students at AWLS presented commemorative shirts to three AWLS staff who are veterans.
Students at AWLS presented commemorative shirts to three AWLS staff who are veterans.

If I had a nickel for every meeting where the discussion over the future of hunting was involved, I would be off somewhere on another adventure rather than sitting here in the office. Much of the concern over the future is driven by the continuous cultural shift here in America from a rural society to an urban one. The rise of technology has only exacerbated the problem.

Much has been written and discussed on the subject, but the book by Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods really brings the point home for many of us working to preserve America’s hunting traditions. Since the book came out in 2008, there has been a concerted effort by organizations from hunting groups to the NFL’s “Play 60” to encourage our children to get outside.

There have been many discussions in SCI related to the future of hunting. Some believe that advocacy is the most important. Others believe conservation is most important. Having spent much of my life supporting advocacy and conservation efforts, I realized about 10 years ago that there is another component that is as important, if not more important. That is education.

last-child-cover-lrgIt appears that SCI and SCIF address the issues of all three major areas of importance better than other hunting organizations. We have solid advocacy efforts spearheaded by our staff in DC. We have important conservation efforts underway headed by Matt Eckert and Dr. Al Maki. We support many education programs at the national level and through our Chapters. All of these areas are essential components in a successful strategy to preserve our outdoor traditions.

The youth leadership program at AWLS is, without doubt, a shining example of getting something right for the road ahead and in providing outdoor experiences. I was invited to assist teaching a segment of the youth leadership class at AWLS, this summer. I came away with renewed hope for our future.

SCIF Director of Education, Sue Hankner, and I have similar education/teaching and political involvement experience as former legislative staff and in lobbying.   Our goal was to fine tune the teaching of advocacy in the high school session.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned the experience I was to have at AWLS with these young Americans.

These young men and women demonstrated that they are well on their way to filling our shoes in the effort to preserve America’s outdoor traditions. On top of the impressive character exhibited by these youth, was the dedication and passion that the AWLS instructor corps brought to the table. The classes on outdoor skills, ecology and conservation were spot on.

After days of conservation and advocacy lessons, students participated in a mock legislative committee hearing on the Endangered Species Act and wolves. Not only did the students rise to the occasion, they quickly formulated persuasive arguments for their position while staff, acting as legislators, grilled them on the issues. It was an active learning experience. I would venture to say these youth will soon be sitting before real legislative committees supporting our cause.

I witnessed an event that highlights their character and commitment. Three AWLS staff are veterans. On July 4, the students honored the veterans during a break in an evening class. After the evening break, the students requested to lead the class. They had purchased three T-shirts, which all 33 students signed. In a display of passion and patriotism, they presented the T-shirts to the three veterans. Following that presentation, the students lead everyone in singing the national anthem.

There are times when I become discouraged as it seems that not many of our fellow hunters care enough about the future. Most of today’s youth seem to care more about being engaged with electronic devices and games. It sometimes seems an impossible task to educate youth about the wonders of the natural world and the benefits and rewards of leading the life of a hunter-conservationist.

Then, an event like this one with young students at AWLS changes my thinking. There is hope for the future. It inspires me to continue my efforts and I hope it re-kindles in you a passion to become involved.

Working together we can make a difference. We can look to our youth, like those who attended AWLS, to carry the torch when we join our fore-bearers on the happy hunting grounds.–Eddie Grasser

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