As many of you know by now, last week brought with it not only the 4th of July holiday, but the not-so-surprising news that the organization which identifies itself as Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) has begun efforts to place its second wildlife management-related referendum on Michigan’s 2014 ballot.
Although it was clearly wishful thinking, many of us had hoped that the matter had been resolved when Governor Snyder recently signed Michigan Senate Bill 288 into law, resulting in Public Act 21. With limited exceptions, this package of legislation gave the authority for the designation of game species to the citizen-comprised Michigan Natural Resources Commission, and away from the State legislature, and presumably, the ballot box.
While KMWP attempts to claim the moral high ground by “letting the public decide” the issue of wolf management, the truth is that most animal rights organizations prefer ballot box messaging because they have the financial resources to launch media campaigns which have the capacity to be long on emotion and short on facts. Conversely, trying to explain the dichotomy of hunting where its practitioners spend long hours in the field and share a deep appreciation for the same wild game they pursue for food and recreation is a story which does not lend itself well to instant messaging.
Like so many debates which involve the role and purpose of hunting, it is fought along the edges of the general population and not among its majority. On one side, you have the supporters who were typically raised in families or communities where hunting and angling were not only forms of recreation, they were, and still are, a way of life. On the other side are the hunting/angling opponents who seem to try the “bait and switch” approach wherever possible. This technique seeks to confuse a general public who love their pets, and attempts to swap this human-domestic animal connection with one involving wildlife.
This brings us to the real purpose of this column which is to discuss the need for a comprehensive public educational campaign on the issues of wildlife conservation and the important role that hunters and anglers have played in both their restoration and management.
To this end, The Nimrod Society has produced a video which discusses the educational initiative launched in Colorado in response to the numerous ballot initiatives in that state which have sought to limit these sporting traditions. This video, titled Colorado Model, explains the history of this educational program which is overseen by what is now known as the Colorado Wildlife Council. Just in case you missed the first link, this 10 minute video can be viewed by clicking here.
The Colorado Wildlife Council has its origins in anti-hunting ballot initiatives similar to those which have come before Michigan voters in the past and will again in 2014. According to their website, the Council formally known as the Colorado Wildlife Management Public Education Advisory Council (WMPEAC),“was conceived and developed by a coalition of hunters, anglers and conservationists working together with livestock and agricultural organizations, and created in state law by the Colorado legislature in 1998. The Council retains an advertising agency responsible for planning and executing the media strategy on which Council members give input. The Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife appoints Council members and holds final approval authority for campaign plans.”
The Colorado Wildlife Council’s legislatively mandated mission is to oversee a comprehensive information program which is intended to educate the general public about the benefits of wildlife, wildlife management, and wildlife-related recreational opportunities in Colorado – especially as it relates to hunting and fishing. As their advertising campaign evolved, earlier content-heavy messages gave way to their Hug a Hunter and Hug an Angler television and on-line video spots. As I’m sure you’re wondering, funding for the Colorado Wildlife Council and its media program is via an educational earmark of 75 cents from each hunting and fishing license sold, with no state general funds being used.
A few weeks ago during her address to the delegates of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ (MUCC) annual convention, Executive Director Erin McDonough made specific reference to the need for such an initiative and specifically referenced the Colorado Model.
The reality is we will not win a debate among likely voters by name calling or claiming that hunters are more Michiganders than are their opponents. This debate will only be won when we are seen as having claimed our own “high ground” and share the message that hunters and anglers were this nation’s original conservationists.