Conservation pendulum changes direction

ESCANABA — History is a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their cause. The history of conservation, especially that which has been created in Michigan, is about to see a major swing of the pendulum. This time, however, it appears to be super charged!

In the past four decades, I have viewed the changes in attitude of the public in how conservation and the recreational use of our natural resources had evolved from being a common consideration as part of our Michigan heritage, to that of a limited and protective faction of citizens that have to be on guard and politically correct with every move they make. I was shocked to see how literature related to hunting, trapping and fishing had been taken out of school libraries. It reached a point that the memberships of U.P. Whitetails Association, Inc., offered outright grants to teachers who wished to add books and magazines to the shelves at their respective schools so that youth could still have exposure to that quality of life we have here, especially in the Upper Peninsula.

Those who pay for the privilege to take wild game have not only self-financed government agencies who manage the state’s natural resources under a fee structure, they have also contributed both financially and physically as volunteers on the restoration of habitat, science data collection and public education on safety ethics and traditions as stewards of the outdoors. Prior to now, every dime raised and most extra time available has been utilized for the good of the resource.

Those who do not see eye-to-eye with us have actually developed business operations that solicit the non-participating public to contribute to their cause as “antis” and battle to shut us down. Unfortunately, their money spent does not usually go to projects on the ground, it is most often spent on campaigns and in the courts.

Here in the U.P., people like me have not been especially bothered by the antis because their attempts to discredit those of us who do participate in hunting, trapping and fishing have fallen on deaf ears. In order to override our efforts, these antis have used the court system and ballot box under initiative and referendum to appeal to the urban voter, far removed from an outdoors issue, to make their case. What they say has gone unchecked, that is until now.

The Michigan Wildlife Council (MWC) has implemented a master plan to bring education about the successes of conservation to media that cater to the major urban centers in southern and southwestern Michigan. These are the places where we failed when ballot issues were run. Data collected in planning the campaign and funded through license dollars of those who hunt, trap and fish, were put into understanding where the misconception of who we are and what we do is most critical. A series of public awareness advertisements put forth true definition of what conservation means to Michigan. The ads not only touch on the heritage side, they hit home with factual numbers that illustrate how the economics derived from such activities are a key element in maintaining our renewable natural resources of which many enjoy for free.

On top of that, the smaller organizations have also joined the ranks of the MWC in producing public education materials that explain what they are all about as well as some who are using science data in presenting their positions when problems exists and need correction.

Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the largest and longest established cooperative of conservation organizations in the state, has pushed major parts of their statewide “On The Ground” wildlife habitat projects by using social media in an ongoing basis. The Michigan Bear Hunters Association in cooperative partnership with the U.P. Bear Houndsman Association and Michigan Hunting Dog Federation have recently released a video titled “Defending Tradition”, that depicts their priority as being stewards of the black-bear resource, being a significant wildlife management tool with a mostly catch-and-release hunting theme, and a strong social activity often involving multiple layers of friends and family.

The Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sport Fishermen have recently released a short documentary that explains the downturn in the sport fishery in the most northern lake basins and brings forth the key elements for revival. All points made are from science-based data.

To boost the statewide efforts, the new U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has just signed two secretarial orders to expand access to public lands. The orders functioned to support hunting, fishing, and other activities. “Outdoor recreation is about our heritage and our economy. Between hunting, fishing, motorized recreation, camping and more, the industry generates thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity,” says Secretary Zinke, echoing the sentiments of almost anyone who participates in these activities. His action recognizes how these organizations are key to the continued enhancement of conservation stewardship, increased outdoor recreation, and improved management of game and their habitat.

For the first time in decades, I feel the Michigan conservation history pendulum has turned direction and as I stated in the beginning, this time it looks like it has been supercharged, now at the national level. It is hoped that the future of our recreational opportunities, especially those on state and federal public lands, are now assured for future generations to enjoy.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.