Young conservationists and like-minded organizations are joining forces to protect America's wildlife, streams and game fields.
By Chad Adams
Volunteers use care handling a six-month-old mule deer as part of a management program that monitors deer movement and survival rates in Idaho.
Photo courtesy of Safari Club International
The sun silhouettes a majestic buck at dusk; bubbling, crystal-clear waters snake their way into pools, hiding a giant brown beginning to rise; the old setter quivers on point with anticipation, the upland bird about to flush. These are the images that capture the imagination of sportsmen—and when we're lucky, some of these dreams will mature into reality during the course of a sporting life.
But 21st century life threatens the very rites of passage we hold so dear. Urban sprawl and competing land demands gobble up more wildlife habitat each day, while wildlife management agencies fight to maintain the delicate balance between man, civilization and the animals of the wild.
It's not a quick fight. This is a long struggle to ensure the sporting way of life. The future of hunting, fishing and nature-watching depends on the conservation efforts of today. And, it's an effort being waged on many fronts.
Across the nation, youngsters are taking up this call to preserve our wildlife heritage. As youth members of the NRA, you, the leading outdoorsmen of the next generation, can have a tremendous impact on your hunting future by volunteering in conservation projects. For those courageous enough to answer this call, several organizations are making it easier than ever for like-minded individuals to take their first steps toward improving and conserving the great outdoors.
The National Rifle Association plays a major role in youth conservation programs nationwide. In cooperation with local, federal and private organizations, the Environment, Conservation and Hunting Outreach (ECHO) program works to advance conservation efforts, encourage hunter safety and ethics, and promote hunting as a beneficial and responsible use of our wildlife resources. Various ECHO projects include restoring and enhancing wildlife habitat for both game and non-game wildlife species, conservation education programs, improving hunting access and opportunities, and shooting range projects.
Soda Springs, ID, high-schooler Casey Batterton plants bitter brush to improve winter range.
Photo courtesy of Harry Morse, Idaho Fish and Game Department
Last year, through the ECHO Program, the NRA funded two major national-level youth conservation education programs and two state-level youth conservation education programs, along with several youth hunter education programs and various range development programs. In Montana, for example, the ECHO Program participated with the sponsorship of the Montana Range Youth Camp, where 50 youngsters, ages 12 to 18, spent five days learning plant identification, soils and range site characteristics, wildlife habitat requirements, stream dynamics, water quality indicators, geology, range condition and livestock stocking rates.
From building duck boxes to hunter education and habitat restoration, the NRA's ECHO program provides excellent opportunities for conservation-minded youngsters to get involved in various outdoor activities.
The National Wild Turkey Federation's youth members are called JAKES, which stands for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship. Throughout the country, local NWTF chapters promote conservation by involving JAKES members in a variety of habitat-improvement efforts. For example, two local chapters of Florida JAKES planted 180 trees last year at a wildlife management area—an effort that will provide valuable cover for game animals in the future. The NWTF also holds the Porter Wagoner/JAKES National Conservation Field Days each year in South Carolina. Here, youngsters can learn about camping, fishing, conservation, turkey calling, shooting and other outdoor skills. To supplement this national event, numerous local JAKES Conservation Field Day Events, like Florida's tree-planting event, offer a wide range of hands-on projects in which participants learn the importance of conservation and outdoor skills.
Quail Unlimited sponsors two different camps, each teaching conservation in a slightly varied form. The Bobwhite Brigade, for ages 14 to 18, is an intense camp that teaches leadership and habitat, geared toward older youngsters with a more scientific approach to wildlife management—great preparation for future biologists and wildlife managers. COVEY Kids is a weeklong camp for ages 10 to 15. Wildlife habitat evaluation, conservation and ecology are among the topics featured. Professional instructors lead each camp, accompanied by additional volunteer instructors from state and federal wildlife agencies and local QU chapters, among others. These camps are often held on a hunting preserve or club property, giving youngsters plenty of time to gain field experience.
Through organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation's JAKES program, wildlife continues to be reintroduced back into native range across North America.
Photo courtesy of National Wild Turkey Federation
The Boy Scouts of America rewards outstanding achievement in conservation through its annual William T. Hornaday Awards, named for the late, famed champion of natural resource conservation and founder of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The award, which was first given in the early 1970s, is awarded to any Boy Scout, Varsity Scout or Venturer who accomplishes a project based on sound scientific principles and guided by a conservation professional or well-versed layperson—which may represent hundreds of man-hours and planning over an 18-month period. Categories include conservation in energy, soil and water, fish and wildlife management, forestry and range management, air and water pollution control, resource recovery (recycling), hazardous material disposal and management and invasive species control. Aside from the Hornaday Awards, which indeed are among the Scouts' most prestigious, conservation is at the very backbone of the Scouting ideals. Numerous other programs are the norm on the unit level, as Scouts aim to make conservation a part of everyday life, participating in joint-venture programs with local, state and federal agencies, as well as private organizations.
After all, that's really the point—getting involved. As sportsmen, the most important legacy bestowed upon us is the great outdoors. Through the outstanding programs offered by these organizations, and many others, that heritage is being handed down, preserving the valuable hunting fields, fishing streams and wildlife for the benefit of future generations. By getting involved now, youth conservationists have a unique opportunity—the chance to truly make a difference. With an entire lifetime ahead of them, early involvement puts youngsters in a position to accomplish what those before only dreamed of.
And if we're lucky, every sportsman will follow in our boot prints. Whether glassing that buck, landing that brown, or working that dog on point, it's a faint whisper that carries through the woods, cuts through the morning fog and echoes off the canyon wall. It sings the hunting and fishing tales of long ago as the sun sets and these future woodsmen recede back into civilized worlds, but our whispers remain—yours, mine and theirs—standing guard over our precious lands and streams with that one-word battle cry: Conserve.
America's bat species—which provide beneficial services to humans by keeping disease-carrying mosquito populations in check—are in decline in some areas. More than 11,000 bat houses were distributed through a New York state bat conservation project to provide shelter and encourage growth of the small, flying mammals.
Photo courtesy of Safari Club International
Boy Scouts of America,
P.O. Box 152079
Irving, TX 75015-2079
(972) 580-2000 www.scouting.org
National Rifle Association
11250 Waples Mill Road
Fairfax, VA 22030-9400
(703) 267-1500 www.nrahq.org
National Wild Turkey Federation
P.O. Box 530
Edgefield, SC 29824-1510
(800) 843-6983 www.nwtf.org