We sit in a time where we can share our opinion so freely through social media, that it is impossible to wade through all the divisive and oppositional rhetoric. When it comes to the complexity of conservation, it is impractical to think an in-depth discussion can be done in 160 characters or less. The number of likes, retweets or shares does not apply weight to our argument in real time, nor does it count for the progress of our theories to real world application. To create a plan it takes deep meaningful discussion. You must find a seat at the table if you are going to be heard.
In the summer of 2023, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers of Minnesota was offered the chance to co-host the Governor’s Deer Opener. The goal of this event was to foster a community-based conversation about deer hunting & hunting heritage in our state. Our partners would include the Minnesota Conservation Federation & Bluffland Whitetails Association. Together we aimed to show how collaborative approaches to mentoring hunters, community engagement & wildlife management can create a roadmap for a promising future in the great outdoors of Minnesota.
The format for the event included a listening session hosted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and attended by multiple local, state & national representatives from organizations across the industries of state/local commerce, conservation & shooting sports. I have rarely been a part of a focus group style discussion that flowed so freely, respectfully & collaboratively. We went well over our allotted time, and only the promise and smell of a Southeast Asian venison sampling could pull us away.
Minnesota is home to one of the largest Hmong communities in the country. I’m fortunate enough to serve on a State BHA board where this community is represented. Keng Yang has put significant effort into highlighting the hunting traditions of the Hmong community. He was on hand with Yeng Moua to bring us some incredible flavors to wrap up our day.
The evening culminated with a pint night at Sylvan Brewing, where Governor Tim Walz was able to offer remarks about the hunting heritage in Minnesota. Focused topics included the incredible financial impact hunting & fishing bring to the state, and the support for fostering more input from the hunting community on complex wildlife management issues.
We awoke the next morning and headed into the field for the first day of Minnesota Firearms Deer season. Each hosting organization was able to bring along a mentee for the trip. I had the honor of bringing my wife Jane on her first deer hunt that morning. Although it wasn’t a hunt where we brought home a deer, we experienced the woods waking up & wrote another chapter of our story together.
I can’t close this recap without thanking Jim Vagts for his dedication to the event, and to conservation. Jim is a lifelong conservationist and still hunts elk at the ripe age of…”old enough to know better.” Jim has given his blood, sweat & time to CWD management in Minnesota. His actions are a testament to the tenants of the North American Model of Wildlife, and the need to find common ground in conservation.
This event was not just a social gathering. BHA took a seat at the table to discuss, debate & create progress in the complex discussions of conservation in the state of Minnesota. The evening was not about left wing or right wing. We didn’t identify as blue & red. The only color that mattered was Blaze Orange.
-Eli Mansfield, MN BHA Chapter Chair