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Conservation concerns

Members of the Brandon Fin and Feather Club pose with some wood duck houses that they made and donated as part of the 2013 projects they worked on. (Contributed)1 / 2
Local photographer Shawn Stoen captured this photo of a rooster standing just on the edge of the snow next to a cattail slough between Donnellly and Kensington on Saturday, March 8.2 / 2

There is a question that comes up at Viking Sportsmen’s meetings every few months that members are trying to find an answer to.

How do we get younger men and women involved in our group?

“I would say at least every third month it’s a topic of discussion,” Viking Sportsmen president Steve Henry said. “We know that they’re busy. Young families today are really active and pulled many ways. We feel that it’s really important to get them involved, and we’ve had a difficult time accomplishing that.”

The Viking Sportsmen aren’t alone. It’s an issue that other outdoor groups are hoping to figure out as they try to maximize their effectiveness in their conservation efforts.

Henry is 69-years-old and says at least two-thirds of the 21 board members for the Viking Sportsmen are age 60 and older. With around 350 members, the local club is involved with many local projects, and teams up with the Douglas County Pheasants Forever (PF) chapter on many of those. Henry says they could do even more with the addition of younger members with a drive to take an active role.

“It’s that 25-40 age group, young working men and women,” Henry said. “We know that a lot of them still hunt and fish…I think our effectiveness in terms of preserving the environment and conservation practices is impacted by the size of the group, and the percentage of the people who are involved.”

Douglas County PF president Dean Krebs called it a missed opportunity. He cites projects like youth activities and habitat work on local public lands as activities that the local chapter doesn’t have the time and energy to pursue with just eight to 12 committee members.

“I think that we always struggle with getting committee members of that age group,” Krebs, 43, said. “We do have some, but it’s tough getting people of that age group, especially when you start getting down to the 20s. I think that the younger adults are really missing opportunities on things we could do. There are a lot of opportunities that we’re leaving on the table.”

So why are some groups finding it hard to get younger members involved? Henry and Krebs both said they know men and women with young families are pulled in a lot of different directions. Those with kids can follow their children around in athletic programs year around.

“It’s a huge commitment,” Henry said. “As you talk to these people, they care about the environment. Maybe not quite as many of them are hunters and fishermen, but certainly they’re concerned about the quality of our lakes and preserving things for their kids.”

A popular theory has been that there just aren’t as many opportunities for hunters as there were a generation or two ago. That may be true, but numbers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that the total number of licenses, tags, permits and stamps purchased by non-residents and residents in Minnesota rose from 1,424,718 in 2012 to 1,553,789 in 2013. Those same angling numbers show an increase from 1,390,419 in 2012 to 1,607,859 last year.

“It’s still a very significant percentage [of people who hunt and fish of that age group],” Henry said. “I don’t think it’s as high as when a lot of us grew up when you just walked out the back door with a shotgun and we hunted. That’s pretty rare now. The opportunities are not as easy and then it snowballs. If mom or dad are not outdoorsmen, hunters and fishermen, it’s unlikely the kids will be.”

Mike Bruns is 28 years old and the treasurer of the Brandon Fin and Feather Club. He is one of about 15 active members of a group that teamed up with local lake associations to stock around $10,000 worth of walleyes into seven lakes around Brandon last year.

The club also sponsors the Brandon-Evansville high school trap shooting team and purchased two pheasant surrogators that they use to release pheasants onto private land in the area that neighbors public property.

The Brandon Fin and Feather Club has been around for years, but Bruns said the group was basically dormant from 2005 through 2009. That changed in 2010 with the help of a young nucleus of members who took an active role.

“We actually have a pretty young group,” Bruns said. “Our president, secretary and treasurer, I believe we might all be under the age of 35. Of our active members, we have another four guys I believe that are for sure under 40.”

That helped draw the group together in the first place. Most of these members already knew each other and were friends in some cases. That helped in getting the group going again in 2010.

“I think it goes back to the people who are currently involved,” Bruns said. “If you’re friends or casually know some of the guys who are involved, I think it helps in the process of at least showing up. Once you get to know the other guys, it’s a good time anyway, but I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Getting prospective members to show up at meetings and give it a try is a constant challenge for groups. It’s an issue that they will continue to try and be creative in addressing during a time when conservation is needed as much now as it has ever been.

“The Viking Sportsmen and Pheasants Forever have teamed up for a big youth outdoor activity day in August,” Krebs said. “We really are concerned about that, and we’re trying to get kids involved and trying to get them out from behind the computer and iPad. We’re very cognizant of what could happen to our outdoor recreation opportunities.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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