Monday, October 13, 2008

My trip to the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy

At the last minute I was able to attend the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy, organized by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and in response to the President's Executive Order 13443. This order calls on federal agencies to, "facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species and their habitat..."

The event was spread over two evenings and two days, with fine dinners hosted by major conservation organizations. DU's evening was especially nice, due to the short film they kept re-playing, showing birds flying; I felt like a dog, mesmerized by the cupped wings and slightly rocking descent of two drakes and a hen, orange legs outstretched, putting on the brakes from sizzling through the air to drop down onto some decoys... okay, snap out of it.

One day was dedicated to "plenary sessions", based on a series of white papers prepared by a number of organizations and sent out to participating groups. These papers outlined ideas for achieving the goals of the Executive Order, and also provided the framework for conversations. I was disappointed by this method, as it really framed the questions, rather than opening up the floor to hear ideas from many different perspectives. Of course, folks jumped outside the boundaries when offering ideas or questions, which is always a good thing when you get a chance to talk to the government in a public forum.

Personally, I felt a bit disconcerted by the amount of emphasis on resource extraction, in particular for "biofuels", a controversial topic right now. But, I'm going to accentuate the positive here, and state that I found two points of focus on which groups from the entire spectrum of the conservation and environmental community can focus: Funding and youth involvement.

I defy you to talk to an involved hunter or angler for five minutes about conservation without hearing about how these folks contribute more dollars to the effort than any other group. It's stated so often (and I'm one to blame) within the community, that it starts to feel more like self-aggrandizement, however, so I propose we take it a bit more public. NorCalCazadora has mentioned some recent hunting-related news in some major publications lately. Perhaps we could build on this publicity by reminding the public of the importance of hunting/fishing dollars to conservation efforts, especially as they relate to the current economy?

In the meantime, environmental and conservation groups are looking to help out in funding. Many would love to see an additional funding source, like binoculars taxes, or making people buy duck stamps to access wildlife refuges. Many would love to see an uptick in the numbers of people hunting and fishing, thus buying more excise-taxed items and licenses. These are both areas where coalitions of groups who may not always see eye-to-eye could actually accomplish a shared goal.

The other idea where collaboration potential exists is in youth involvement. There is a movement afoot right now by the moniker, "No Child Left Inside." Folks see that kids these days aren't getting out, they aren't gaining a love and appreciation for a place, and they (and we) are suffering for it. This is just another symptom of unfettered suburban development, the single largest threat to the environment today, and it is one that needs to be addressed in a big way. Requiring the application of outdoors activities to particular curricula is one step, but in poor, urban schools, access to park lands is limited, and pollution is a big problem. We need to combine mandates with the funds and ability for schools to accomplish the goals we set.

Last year, the Sierra Club offered legislation to encourage outdoor education for young people. It didn't make it out of committee. Next year, why not get some kind of bill at the state level which offers outdoor education with an archery component, and possibly some fishing or hunting access? This could garner the necessary bipartisan support (no small task in California) for passage, and could be accomplished through cooperative efforts between groups like the Sierra Sportsmen, Ducks Unlimited, and the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance.

Which brings me to the best part of my trip to the conference: I was able to meet some great folks representing a wide array of organizations and interests. In particular, I got to meet a man I highly regard, Jim Posewitz of Orion, the Hunters' Institute. I recommend a trip to that website. I came away hopeful in our ability to gain hunters and anglers, to come up with wise resource and habitat management decisions, and to find some common ground and make some concerted moves toward the goal that all in the conservation and environmental community share: Protecting and preserving our common inheritance, and instilling in our children a love and passion for our places.


geomusicon said...

No child left inside is a great concept...I'd like to learn more. I think this sort of outreach--outreach through exposure (excuse the pun)--is the way to go to get young students to appreciate the sciences as well. California in particular is blessed with a wealth of geologic wonders surrouned by a trove of floral and faunal beauty. The key is that youth need to be shown that it exists, and that they can be a part of it.

Josh said...

All curricula can benefit from 'exposure.' Literature, history (conservation movement is little taught in classes today), math (laying out designs for aesthetically pleasing gardens, or separating sections for study), of course the sciences. You are right on.

I also like to emphasize that youth need to get the chance to feel like they know a particular place, to be a part of it.

A. Stark said...

Regarding "No child left inside," a testimonial: As a person who grew up as a "latch-key" kid, I had little exposure to nature and to places. As an adult, I finally began to venture out into nature, and I encountered many problems. Not only was I afraid of being out in the "wild," but my fear was very much related to my ignorance. For instance, according to my bear phobia, there is a bear behind every tree and bush in the forest. Every bear wants to attack me and ferociously maul me to death. However, once I learned the concept that each bear needs a lot of territory to itself for survival, and that it takes a large area to sustain a bear, I began to understand that the chances of running into a bear are significantly slimmer than one being behind every bush. Also, the concept that humans are a main predator of bears and that therefore bears would most likely be afraid of people and try to run from us, helped.

The last and perhaps most important point I want to make about kids being kept indoors is that it does affect them on a cognitive level. I'll argue that understanding nature, and natural processes, can work a lot like language development. The earlier you start the easier it is to learn. As an adult I had a difficult time differentiating between different kinds of birds. It took me a while to develop the ability to identify and label distinctly a heron from an egret. Since I had very little actual visual and cognitive experience with "birds," I tended to lump everything that resembled one into a concept I labeled "birds." Also, if you asked me if Ducks could fly, I wouldn't remember. The reason is that I had nothing to base this knowledge upon, except perhaps from reading children's books very early in my childhood and I didn't have any recollection of the details from these books. So if you asked me if birds could fly, I'd say yes. If you asked me if ducks could fly, I'd search my brain and then say I don't know. It wasn't until I learned to observe seasonal migratory patterns (and repeatedly SAW them flying) in my region of Sacramento, CA, which happens to be a part of the Pacific Flyway, that I easily could associate flight and ducks. Now, I can even predict the migratory journey of various species of birds and waterfowl, and identify them from their flight patterns and the noises they make as they go. There is no reason why I had to learn this as an adult- other than that I was kept inside way too much as a child.

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