By Kylie Schumacher
It’s the shot heard around the world right now in the hunting and angling communities: Hunting and fishing participation is declining. We’re all familiar with the decline in license sales and days spent afield and know all too well the implications of these statistics. With the addition of BHA’s Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation position, BHA is actively working to reverse these numbers, primarily though our Hunting for Sustainability program.
While R3 initiatives aim to break down barriers and provide opportunities for those already interested in pursuing hunting and fishing, BHA’s collegiate program works in tandem by sparking that interest in the first place. During the program’s first years, Sawyer Connelly focused on establishing new clubs and infrastructure for growth. Now we’re able to develop more creative ways to get a greater number and diversity of students outside and involved in conservation issues in hopes that they find a clear path to hunting or angling themselves.
The college clubs have been off to a roaring start this semester towards accomplishing these goals. Clubs tabled at welcome back events on campus and held their first meetings of the semester. While there are guidelines to remain a club, each club has the freedom to develop its meetings and activities in a way that will benefit their university, community and membership in line with our mission. They are busy laying the foundations of a conservation mindset that is the first, and most important, step to becoming a hunter or angler.
In late August, the University of Montana club and BHA headquarters participated in the Big Sky Experience in Missoula. Club leaders led a group of 20 incoming freshman on three days of activities that immersed them in our mission and work. Students got a taste of hiking Pattee Canyon, fly fishing the Clark Fork and cleaning up trash at a local trailhead. Several of these freshmen are now regular attendees at BHA club meetings where they will continue to build relationships with hunters and anglers and participate in activities that benefit local land and wildlife.
To celebrate Public Lands Month in September, seven clubs planned and executed cleanups on local public land. Utah State University, Clarion, Kansas State, University of Montana, University of Minnesota, Western Colorado and Boise State collectively picked up over 170 bags of trash. Each college club is expected to complete a minimum of one work service event, such as this, per semester. Work service projects serve to get students engaged in their local community while fostering the idea of stewardship.
At Colorado State University, Brianne Lauro, a junior studying fish, wildlife and conservation biology, is serving as an outreach coordinator on the CSU board of officials. She was drawn to BHA due to our all-encompassing mission: “Whether you hunt or fish, hike or bike, view wildlife or harvest it,” she says, “one thing brings us together; public land.” Acknowledging this common ground, she is actively seeking new and innovative ways to recruit club members. College campuses are naturally diverse environments and present ample opportunities to conduct outreach and recruitment to nontraditional audiences based on common goals and interests. Brianne Lauro is working to develop and execute programs and practices that increase accessibility to the outdoors in relevance to public lands and waters.
As the collegiate and R3 programs grow, we will continue to look for innovative ways to get new generations of students engaged outside and create an open path to hunting and fishing. We are already well on our way to reaching our goal of 40 clubs by the end of 2020. Paralleling this growth, we hope to strengthen our collective conservation voice by getting students more heavily involved in BHA’s policy priorities. Also important will be building a sense of camaraderie and community within the clubs through campouts and cabin retreats. In addition, we will continue to highlight student interests and present opportunities to build on those in ways that will benefit public lands and waters. We are lucky to have top-notch leaders working diligently to keep our hunting and fishing heritage alive and create more stewards for the world around us.
Kylie Schumacher was a member of the BHA Colorado State University college club and spent five years working in the wildlife field and one year serving on Colorado BHA’s chapter leadership team before joining BHA full-time as the new collegiate club coordinator. She is a new hunter, budding angler, traveler and epicure.