By Drew YoungeDyke, 2% for Conservation Michigan Committee Member and senior communications coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation
Conservation organizations are the lifeblood fish and wildlife conservation in America.
The laws which exist to channel hunter and angler licenses and sporting equipment excise taxes into conservation funding are there because hunters and anglers got together, formed organizations, and fought for them. The public lands we hunt and the waters we fish are there because organizations unite the voices of hunters and anglers to protect them.
Each organization has a different mission, structure, and history, but together they form a complete mosaic providing a united voice for the wildlife, waters, and lands we hunt and fish.
So which conservation organizations are right for you?
That depends on you. Consider your capacity, your interests, and your passions.
- What habitats or species are most important to you?
- Do you want to support on-the-ground work or advocacy?
- Or both?
- What geographic scope matters most to you?
- Local, state, national?
Maybe the community of the membership you’ll be joining matters along with the actual work of the organization, too. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll give you an example of the organizations I support and why.
First of all, I’m on staff at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
We are a national organization that functions as a federation of independent state affiliates, about half of which are hunting and fishing conservation organizations and about half which are environmental organizations. They set our national policy, so our role in the conservation world that of a bipartisan collaborator that finds the common ground between the conservation and environmental sides for the benefit of fish and wildlife. This approach has been successful for over 80 years and helped achieve conservation victories like the Pittman-Robertson Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This collaborative approach matters to me, so I’m also an individual member.
And since I live in Michigan, I’m also an individual member of Michigan United Conservation Clubs – NWF’s Michigan affiliate and my previous employer – both for their participation in the national federation and the work they do to conserve Michigan’s natural resources through both on-the-ground wildlife projects and advocacy at the state capital, through the Natural Resources Commission, and by working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Other NWF state affiliates with hunting and fishing roots, like the Montana Wildlife Federation and the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, can be found at www.nwf.org/outdoors.
Most of my hunting and fishing is on public land, so I’m also a member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. I first joined in 2012 and helped found the Michigan chapter, for which I served on the board and as a past co-chair. And these are some of my favorite people to be around, which makes volunteering fun.
I also enjoy fly fishing coldwater streams in northern Michigan, so I’m a member of Trout Unlimited and specifically the Headwaters Chapter which does in-stream habitat work in the rivers that I fish. The Huron River Watershed Council does in-stream monitoring through stonefly surveys on the Huron River near my home in Ann Arbor, so I’ve volunteered for that project multiple years. And I just started grouse hunting, so I joined the Ruffed Grouse Society.
As an outdoor writer, I also joined the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, and the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association, which support the outdoor journalism that keeps us informed on conservation issues.
Since I hunt with a traditional bow, a friend bought me a gift membership to Compton Traditional Archers which I’ll renew. And since I had a great time learning to surf on vacation in Hawaii, I joined the Surfrider Foundation which advocates for clean oceans.
I’ve been a member of other organizations in the past which do good work, and, depending on finances, sometimes I’ll alternate years supporting groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Quality Deer Management Association, Michigan Bow Hunters, Tomahawk Archers, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
There is only one organization that I deliberately cancelled my membership due to a disagreement over the direction the organization was going, even though they keep sending me donation letters about how the “liberal elites are trying to take away all my rights.” Yeah, sure. You can guess which one. Other organizations I’ve worked with and I like some of their work but I haven’t joined them because I fundamentally disagree with much of their other work and focus. I won’t cancel my membership in an organization because of one or two disagreements on a specific policy, though.
In general, I try to space out my conservation support dollars and time across national, state, and local organizations and a mix of on-the-ground conservation and advocacy tied to the hunting and fishing recreational interests I have from the narrow of a specific tactic to the broad of supporting the National Wildlife Federation, which works for the conservation of all types of wildlife across the country. Some organizations I volunteer for on a board of directors or on a committee, some I volunteer on a habitat workday, and some I just send in my money and put their sticker on my cooler.
The organizations you support may overlap and differ depending on the intersectionality of your conservation interests. And if you’re unsure where to start, then at the very least, join the organization that supports the wildlife and habitat you hunt. If you’re a duck hunter, join Ducks Unlimited or Delta Waterfowl. If you’re a trout angler, join Trout Unlimited or Western Native Trout Initiative. If you live in Idaho, join the Idaho Wildlife Federation. You get the picture.
While we all have to buy hunting and fishing licenses and pay the excise taxes on our sporting equipment to legally hunt and fish, doing the bare minimum required by law hardly makes anyone a conservationist. That requires doing more. Joining, supporting, and volunteering for nonprofit conservation organizations is the difference between someone who just hunts and fishes and someone who is a genuine conservationist.