Michigan Outdoor News,
Steve Griffin,
Field Editor

Saginaw, MI, March 22, 2013 – There are things more important to the future of hunting and angling than recruiting new hunters and anglers. That’s the message a team of Colorado sportsmen delivered to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission at its March meeting in Saginaw.

The big issue, according to the team, is getting the support, or at least the tolerance, of those who don’t hunt and fish.

“Anti-groups spend all their money getting their message across,” said Alan Taylor, of the Nimrod Society, a Sparta-based group that seeks to have Colorado’s successful program used nationally. “Wildlife organizations spend all their money managing wildlife.”

That leaves the need, he said, to educate non-sportsmen on the value of wildlife management. And that it’s sportsmen who, through their license purchases and excise taxes, pay for that wildlife management.

Coloradan Bob Radocy said his state lost spring bear hunting in 1992, and a few years later, trapping. A “misinformed, misled public,” he said, through citizen initiatives, voted to handcuff the state’s game-management agency from lobbying on behalf of scientific management.

It became clear to some sportsmen, he said, that educating that public was key to survival of their sports.

Led first by a bow hunters group, by 1997 a group now called the Wildlife Council secured in the early 2000s a temporary and voluntary license check-off program that added $4.75 to the cost of licenses, generating $220,000 across four years for research to learn what the public knew and didn’t know: Who foots the bill for wildlife management – the taxpayer, or the hunting and fishing license buyer?

They found, Taylor said, that, “The public had very little knowledge about who pays for wildlife management in Colorado, and it’s probably the same in Michigan.”

Even many hunters and anglers, the group found, were unaware they paid for wildlife work.

An early finding was that the messages that would work with the public were not necessarily the messages hunters, anglers, and wildlife managers thought they wanted to deliver.

“Sportsmen from day one wanted to see hunters in the field, blaze orange, with firearm, better yet with trophy hanging in the tree; that’s not going to happen with the non-sporting public,” said Bob Hewson, a member of the council.

Messages needed to be wildlife driven, Hewson said, not sportsman-in-spotlight.

In 2005, a 75-cent-per-license add-on was established by the state Legislature to pay for a public education program. The money, about $900,000 per year, is kept separate from state wildlife agency funds, and is controlled by the council on which Radocy was the first chair.

Hewson said its nine members represent hunters, anglers, rural communities, the state agency, landowners and farmers, and marketing and media expertise.

Advertising was created, explaining that no tax money paid for the wildlife management benefiting all the people who enjoyed getting outside.

At first, ads showed only anglers, not hunters. And when hunters eventually were introduced, they were in hunter orange, not the camouflage the general public found intimidating. The newest television ads feature backpackers and mountain bikers pausing in their recreation to thank the hunters and anglers, respectively, who made it possible.

The ad, plus more information on economic impacts of hunting and fishing – including the fact that in Colorado, hunting and fishing combined are as big an industry as is skiing – is available on the website, www.keepingcoloradowild.org.

Among the program’s results, the panel said, are millions of what public relations and marketing people call “positive impressions, “or viewings by the public.

Partly reflecting that work, most Coloradans now say they’re not opposed to hunting or angling, nor would they vote to restrict those pursuits. And meeting a key goal, no anti-hunting legislation has been launched there.

Tom Leyden, whose Pilgrim Advertising firm shaped the new ad campaign, said Michigan can take several lessons from Colorado’s experience:

  • It’s easier to change public opinion about sportsmen than to recruit that public to become sportsmen.
  • The best protection against referenda like Michigan’s proposed ban on wolf hunting is public education.
  • If funds for a program like this are not mandated to go to it, inevitably they will be diverted.