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Recruiting for Conservation

Recruiting for Conservation

When I began writing these editor's columns (March–April 1991), my daughter, Hannah, was 18 months old. This fall she begins her first year of college. In the words of Dr. Seuss, "My goodness, how the time has flewn." I'll admit I've been fretting a bit about whether I've done my job as a parent: Does she have the skills to take care of herself and be a good citizen? She knows how to make coffee, do laundry, ride a bike, drive a car, and save money as well as spend it. And this summer she learned how to work on behalf of the environment.
As canvassers for the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Hannah and a coworker stood in front of coffee shops and grocery stores five days a week asking scores of people if they had "a minute for the environment." Then, to the willing listener, she explained the energy bill and other conservation and consumer initiatives backed by her group. She asked for donations and membership. She raised plenty of money.

Hannah learned that a person's appearance (age, ethnicity, health, clothing) has nothing to do with one's interest in listening or willingness to donate to the cause. She appreciated a donation of $1 as much as $100 because she saw that each one means support for the cause.

Hannah's work experience has had many similarities to my own as a fundraiser for this conservation magazine. And though I'd like to think I've served as a role model of sorts, I know that the greater part of what she has learned has occurred on the streets of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Anoka, and Northfield. There's no substitute for work in the field.

In this issue, "Back to the Woods" touts mentorship and time afield as key activities for recruiting young hunters. As DNR Fish and Wildlife director Dave Schad points out, the recruits are future conservationists.

In addition to training new hunters, the future of hunting depends on securing access to public lands. Open and free access is especially important for hunters with modest incomes. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national recreation survey, virtually all of the declines in recruitment and retention of hunters and anglers between 1995 and 2005 occurred in households with incomes under $40,000.

Another challenge confronts duck hunters in particular: lack of waterfowl. "Bluebills," by waterfowler Michael Furtman, tells of dramatic decreases in scaup populations in North America.

Scaup are among the species cited in the recent Audubon Society report on common birds that have become alarmingly less common. Analyzing data collected since 1967, Audubon biologists found average populations of some of the continent's common birds have dropped by 70 percent.

During the past 40 years, legions of volunteers have gathered the data that made the Audubon analysis possible. Citizen scientists volunteered for the annual Breeding Bird Survey, run by the U.S. Geological Survey. And they signed up for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, known as the world's longest-running bird census. The 107th count drew about 60,000 birders into the field on a designated winter day.

Minnesota Conservation Volunteer also aims to recruit conservationists. In the first week after publication of the July–August 2007 issue with its special offer of free classroom subscriptions, our phone lines and e-mail began to fill with responses from teachers. By July 31, the magazine had 6,882 students in 201 schools signed up to receive subscriptions made possible by the education fund established by subscriber Dale Charbonneau.

The hunger for conservation information and education is strong. And the need for conservation action is urgent. In light of its dire report, Audubon magazine published a list of what citizens can do to help birds. These actions are also advocated by the DNR: Preserve farmlands, save grasslands, conserve wetlands, support sustainable forests, stop invasive species, and halt global warming. All are in the public interest, and all depend on the active support of conservationists -- old hands and new recruits.  

Kathleen Weflen, editor

Audubon bird census

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