This is meeting season—the time of year when people are scrambling around making plans for the coming year, working on budgets, politicking and strategizing. In Utah, this is the most meeting-intensive time of year, when the Utah legislature is in session.
Generally speaking, most people don’t enjoy attending meetings very much. Scott Adams, the creative genius behind the comic strip, “Dilbert,” regularly lampoons the most dreaded of meetings—staff meetings--apparently having sat in on more than a few in his prior life.
But if there IS a good time of year to attend meetings, now is it. Except for a smattering of depredation deer and elk hunts and some small game, hunting season is pretty much over. Ice fishing gets a little stagnant as diminished oxygen levels makes fish sluggish the longer the flatwater is iced over. Stream fishing is pretty much limited to tail waters which can be crowded on the nicer days, but a good break from cabin fever, even if the hatches are sparse and trout-catching sparser. All this makes going to meetings a little easier to swallow, weather-permitting.
So while I would much rather be in the great outdoors than sit through another indoor meeting, they are a necessary part of what we do in order to promote and protect backcountry values. How so, you ask?
Attending meetings regularly helps build trust and credibility with local leaders, agency officials, and other stakeholders, even if they don’t always, or ever, agree with you. Amazingly, eventually some thread of commonality and mutual interest can be established so that civil dialogue is possible. They might not “friend” you on Facebook, but by being at meetings with others that you see regularly, you gain an understanding of the interests they represent and the philosophies they espouse. And in a way, those in attendance are actually acknowledging and showing respect to others there. Besides, if everyone was of like mind, meetings probably wouldn’t be necessary at all.
During the ongoing Public Lands Initiative process being championed by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, there have been literally hundreds of meetings held by his staff throughout the state and in Washington D.C. They have gone to great lengths to obtain input from the many stakeholders that could be effected by forthcoming legislation that will influence public land use for decades to come. One particular “meeting” early on was actually a horse pack trip into the Book Cliffs last summer. The trip included representatives from a diverse range of interests and perspectives, along with key staff from Representatives Bishop’s and Chaffetz’s Utah and D.C. offices as well as from Utah Governor Herbert’s staff. Sharing food, drink, camp chores and conversations around a campfire went a long ways towards breaking down communication barriers and stereotypes. Three days and two nights together forged relationships that would have been unlikely to occur otherwise. Many of us now greet each other warmly at subsequent gatherings. We can discuss issues from different points of view, increasing the likelihood that solutions to problems can be found, rather than wondering what hidden agenda might be lurking.
In a typical month, I might attend two county commission meetings, a public lands committee meeting, possibly a regional advisory council meeting held by the Division of Wildlife Resources, have an office visit with a legislator, and maybe an impromptu dinner meeting with BHA members or another sportsmen’s representative. Atypical months could be way busier, seldom less so.
Visiting with one of the county commissioners after a recent meeting in rural southern Utah, he remarked, “I know every one of those sportsmen you interviewed for those video clips you sent me last week!” That’s just the feedback I was looking for, and helps us know that BHA’s message about the importance of protecting wild habitat is getting through.
Another commissioner caught me outside the meeting room and thanked me for attending, knowing that it’s a long ways from northern Utah where I live. “We appreciate you coming down here,” he said. “Having you at these meetings reminds us that you care about what happens to public lands in our county.”
The opportunity to have access for hunting and fishing in high quality wildlife habitat on public lands is what BHA strives for. Being appreciated for working to achieve that goal is a bonus.
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Photo courtesy of Tim Peterson Photography.