Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy far, far, away, you’ve probably noticed that we are a nation divided. We’ve become a country of Republicans vs. Democrats, conservatives vs. liberals and Red vs. Blue instead of the collective Red, White and Blue. And if you made it through the 2016 election without losing at least half of your Facebook friends, well done. Yet, politics aside, there is a common thread that binds us all as Americans, and I believe great things are in store for our nation’s future despite our perceived differences.
Although not as dramatic or polarizing, I see a similar division among sportsmen these days. I see fly fishermen who berate those who spinfish; hunters who attack fellow hunters (especially women) for harvesting mountain lions or bears; archery, muzzleloader and rifle hunters who bicker about which method of take is the most noble; and catch-and-release advocates who bash someone for legally keeping a fish or two for the dinner table.
For some reason, as hunters and anglers, we tend to “eat our own.” And we waste a lot of time and energy fighting among ourselves. Perhaps it’s ego or maybe just human nature that drives us to attack each other. Unfortunately, this “us-versus-them” behavior seems even more prevalent in the modern era of social media where it’s easy to join in the mudslinging and then hide behind a Facebook profile.
As a lifelong hunter and angler, I’ve always believed that conducting oneself legally, ethically and safely in the field and following the regulations is all that really matters. After all, bag limits, season dates, license quotas, etc., are in place to ensure sustainable fish and wildlife resources while providing opportunities for a wide variety of users to enjoy the outdoors. Yet, in addition to collectively supporting and obeying fish and game laws, there’s a broader theme that should unite all of us as sportsmen and women: Conservation.
We all have a shared passion for fish and wildlife and in protecting habitat and our public lands. The conservation of these resources is the common denominator that we all can agree upon, regardless of our individual pursuits.
Historically, hunters and anglers were always the biggest proponents and champions of conservation. In fact, most 19th century sportsmen and early big-game hunters like Theodore Roosevelt placed conservation above all else. While this strong conservation ethic is still paramount in some circles today, many of us have become so focused on our individual pursuits that we’ve lost sight of this larger collective identity and mission.
So, why does this matter? It matters because hunting and fishing and our rights as sportsmen are under attack. Animal right’s activists and environmental extremists are always hard at work trying to take opportunities away from us. And, unlike the trivial reasons that often divide us as hunters and anglers, these groups and organizations are unified under a common goal: to restrict or to stop hunting and fishing altogether. Additionally, the loss of habitat and the degradation of our public lands are some of the greatest threats to fish and wildlife populations and to our hunting and fishing heritage.
As we begin 2017, now’s the time for us to unite as conservationists and to take action. If you haven’t done so already, now’s the perfect time to join a conservation organization that advocates for sportsmen’s rights and practices science-based wildlife management. Now’s the time to volunteer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and contribute to boots-on-the-ground projects that benefit wildlife and habitat. Now’s the time to get engaged and to participate in public meetings that influence hunting and fishing regulations and natural resource policies. Now’s the time to educate yourself about the North American Model of Conservation and to understand the critical role hunters and anglers play in funding wildlife conservation programs. Now’s the time to support increased funding and to explore additional sources of revenue for wildlife management and conservation programs. And, regardless of your political affiliation, now’s the time to support legislation and policies that protect our public lands and defend hunting, fishing and shooting.
We all need to work together to ensure that hunting and fishing opportunities and our wildlife resources remain viable for future generations–regardless of our method of take or how we personally choose to enjoy and experience the outdoors. We must see ourselves, first and foremost, as conservationists, focusing on what we all have in common, instead of attacking each other over our petty differences.
As hunters and anglers, and as Americans, our strength lies not in our diversity but in our unity — despite our diversity. The future of hunting, angling and outdoor recreation depends on all of us recognizing and embracing the common thread that binds us all: conservation.
Written by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist and videographer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.