Monday, October 12, 2015

Muchas Grouse-ias -- opportunities for growing our conservation community

"¿Que quiere decir los pajaros con la plumita en sus cabezas asi?" I held up my finger just above my head.
"Ah! Codornices. I just saw one fifty yardas, atras en los pinos. A big one!"
This year, I only had the chance to hit my favorite spot in the Sierra Nevada for three morning hunts.  I was after a mixed bag of mountain quail, grouse and deer, which meant, for a Sierra hunt: A) I saw dozens of quail, got off a couple of shots; B) heard ghost stories about grouse (okay, I actually saw one this time!); and C) came home empty-handed, but heart-full.
If you've never hunted mountain quail (Oreortyx picta), let me explain.  Hunting mountain quail is just like hunting valley quail, but at on a 50 degree incline covered in scrub brush with three-inch thorns, patches of pine trees between 5 and 200 feet tall, shale and dust.  Mountain quail run about twice as fast as valleys, and fly about three times faster.
It is similar to chukar hunting, except with much more cover, most of it impenetrable, and a bird that won't fly big stretches. 
One positive thing: since they are so extraordinarily successful at surviving, they can regularly be found near fire roads. 
Another good thing about mountain quail is that, in California, their season starts much earlier than valley and Gambel's quail.  Typically, a person can start hunting mountain quail around the opening of the general season for deer in the D zones, and why not? It's not like you are going to get more than one or two. 
Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus, in this case) is different.  Unless you know a "grouse spot", you are highly unlikely to run across one -- unless you are like me, in which case you will always run across one while deer hunting, often right after you thought you heard a large bear or Sasquatch sneaking up behind you.  They "blow out" with much thunderous beating of wings like upland birds do, which includes occasionally "blowing out" one's underwear in the process.  The season runs for a month, overlapping cruelly with deer season.
But the real reason I've decided to post this article here at my Ethics and the Environment blog (and not Agrarianista) is because of my personal experiences with the folks I ran across on these three hunts.
With three exceptions, every single hunter I met this year in the Sierra (and there were quite a few) were Latino.  Big groups, small groups, individuals -- but mostly, fathers with children.
For years now, I've encouraged the organizations I know (such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, CWA, Ducks Unlimited, and Pheasants/Quail Forever) to reach out to more diverse audiences, and ways to do it (local fairs and schools, multi-lingual publications and information, cooperative engagements with environmental justice groups).
Unfortunately, our most active conservation groups have marketed themselves overwhelmingly to more select groups -- mostly older, white men.  Now, being one, myself, I don't have a problem with this group as a target group, but if the North American model of conservation is going to survive, it must grow itself in the minds of Americans.  And, more and more, those minds are diverse politically, socially, geographically, ethnically. 
By "politically" diverse, I'm talking about a real potential to grow hunting in places like California.  Political boundaries are not shaped by political parties, and more often than not, the staunch Democratically-held ethnic groups (when superficially reviewed via election results) also tend to be socially a bit more conservative (in religious affiliation and gun ownership rates, for example).  They overwhelmingly recognize climate change as a tremendous problem to be solved. They also tend to be just one or two generations removed from rural life, where hunting wasn't just accepted, it was enjoyed -- and many, like the gentlemen I met this season, are passing along these traditions to their children.
Sadly, the ridiculous terminology and political reporting about "conservatives" and "liberals" avoid definition, largely because they don't really exist beyond a knee-jerk reaction to the "other".  The nuances of people, when lost in this reporting, injures conservation advocacy, since many organizations don't take the time to understand the reality on the ground.
Our conservation groups must embrace America, broaden their base and encourage youth engagement (CWA does a good job of this, by the way, and should expand into more urban schools, too).  They also need to listen to these communities, accept them in with an understanding that their organizations will change and adapt, but also strengthen and pass on their most vital principles to protect our amazing habitats and landscapes, hunting and fishing heritage, and an appreciation for our country's unique role in the world.
I will say that it's been a while since I've dived into this topic, and some of these great organizations may very well have made inroads into more diverse communities. If so, let me know, & I will spread the word. If not, and you are interested in ideas about how to get going, please feel free to contact me.

3 comments:

Phillip said...

Good stuff, Josh, and I think I'm with you on a couple of key points.

First of all, it is absolutely critical for conservation organizations (including hunters) to start working more with people of color. This is the demographic future of the United States, and as I've posted elsewhere, we only save what we value.

And, the second, but equally critical thing, is that we have GOT to stop with the polarization. I'm watching the gun debate play out again, and on both sides there's this constant alienation of anyone who doesn't fit the clear parameters of extremism. It's not only frustrating, but it's destroying the opportunities for productive/constructive conversations.

Josh said...

Thanks for commenting, Phillip -- I really appreciate your perspective (especially here, where it agrees with mine).

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