State Legislature: Critical Habitat for HuntersCatherine Thagard

 

Unlike many of my fellow sportsmen and women in the streams and on the mountains of the West, hunting has not been a lifelong pursuit for me. I was nearly 40 years old by the time I fired my first rifle, and spent most of my 20’s and early 30’s in the power suit and pantyhose environment of the corporate world. Through a fortunate series of events I was able to trade my heels for hunting boots, and can honestly say I have never looked back. That is, until recently.

Like most sportsmen, I lived for time spent in the field. I didn't think about why we are able to maintain our sporting traditions, or who cared year-round for our public land and game and fish resources, or more importantly, when or even how decisions were made that affected our ability to hunt and fish.

Then gradually, I began to notice how the challenges of our increasingly complex world were threatening our outdoor heritage, in my own state of Wyoming and across the West. An expanding suite of pressures, both natural and human induced, were having a significant impact on Wyoming’s fish, wildlife and sporting opportunity. There was a clear and pressing need for sportsmen to be at the table when policies were being developed that impacted all of the things that are essential to preserving our hunting and angling traditions, but where were we?

Unfortunately, many of my fellow hunters here in Wyoming were doing the same thing I was doing – waiting for someone else to speak up. And while we were waiting, policies such as mandated budget cuts to our Game and Fish Department were being implemented that systematically chipped away at the things we hold dear. In 2013 we lost 600,000 fish in our reservoirs, we lost access through easements on private land, we lost the annual Youth Hunting and Fishing Expo as well as the archery and fishing programs in schools, we lost critical research and habitat work that benefitted our wildlife… the list goes on.

I realized that I could not be a "part-time" sportswoman, that there was no closing date on the season for hunting and angling advocacy. I had the responsibility to see that the policies enacted had meaningful input from those who are affected most - hunters and anglers. For me, it meant being in Cheyenne this past February and engaging our state legislators, talking to them about the impacts of bills they would be voting on that directly affected my opportunities to hunt and fish.

Now I’m not saying that everyone should suit up and spend the legislative session in the capitol, that’s not realistic given that people have jobs and families that may not be as flexible as mine. Not everyone will have the chance, as I did, to speak directly to the Governor on what matters to me as a sportswoman. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do – there are many meaningful actions that all sportsmen who value our fish, wildlife and hunting and angling heritage can and should take.

1. Educate yourself on the issues. Pay attention to what is happening in your state’s fish and wildlife agency - there are many opportunities to interact with them throughout the year and ensure you know what’s going on with your public wildlife.

2. Join a state-based sportsmen’s organization. Is fly fishing your passion? Maybe it’s mule deer habitat, or wild sheep, or everything to do with bow hunting? There is a group filling almost every hunting, fishing or conservation niche, and belonging to one (or several) is the best way to stay informed on the issues you care most about.

3. Hold your legislators accountable. You elected your Representatives to be your voice in government. Be sure they know where you stand on issues and that their vote is an informed one.

4. Speak up! This does not always have to be done in person – a phone call or an email to a decision maker can be highly effective.

Through passivity we may lose the opportunity to pass along the values of our rich heritage to the next generation, so come January 2015 I’ll be trading my blaze orange for a suit blazer, and I sincerely hope that every other hunter and angler in our great state will join me in whatever capacity they can. As sportsmen and women, we cherish our wide open spaces, rugged mountain ranges, pristine trout-filled rivers and rolling sagebrush dotted with antelope as far as the eye can see, but those aren’t the only places important to what we value.  The decisions made in the halls of our Capitol building impact sportsmen as much as – or potentially more – than conditions in the field. We will not preserve or enhance the important traditions and resources we cherish and which provide significant economic value to our economies by remaining silent.