Morken: Outdoor groups are as important now as ever
I pulled up near the Bemo Building at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Jan. 31 at about 7:45 p.m. and noticed what looked to be a pretty good crowd already there.
That was a good sign. Dean Krebs has been on the pages of the Outdoor section in the Echo Press a number of times. He is a great local source as the president of the Douglas County Pheasants Forever chapter and just an all-around active member of the community when it comes to almost anything outdoors related.
Krebs is also a passionate big-game hunter in Western states such as Colorado, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Last Wednesday, the Viking Sportsmen in Alexandria experimented with something new by hosting the first in what will be a series of seminars.
Krebs led last week's session. The idea of these seminars is to get people engaged in the community on topics of hunting and fishing. Bring in a speaker who has a solid background in the area to maybe teach a few new lessons and allow those with the same interests to talk about an area they are passionate about.
Krebs' session focused on big-game hunting in the west. I know from talking to him beforehand that he was a little nervous as to how well the event would be attended. As it turned out, he had nothing to worry about because guys packed the Bemo Building. Krebs gave tips on everything from how licensing works out there to how he has successfully gotten on animals like elk, mule deer, whitetails and antelope.
It generated great information and conversation. This was an innovative way for the Viking Sportsmen to engage the community. They took a chance, not knowing if people would show up, and in my estimation it worked great.
It was a good example of a local outdoor group hosting an event to simply foster excitement for the outdoors. Sure, groups all over this area work hard to raise money for this project and that project, but fundraising does not happen successfully without an audience that is passionate for hunting and fishing.
Outdoor groups big and small are an important piece to our outdoor interests. Douglas County PF and the Viking Sportsmen came together a handful of years ago to try something new by hosting the first Youth Outdoor Activity Day. The goal was simple - get kids off the couch to experience everything there is to do outside with a free event for families.
Organizers didn't know how well that would be attended either. In its fourth year this past August, it drew 2,180 kids and has become a blueprint beyond Minnesota for how to have success with an event like this.
That's the power local groups can have. The Viking Sportsmen and Pheasants Forever spearhead the event, but virtually every small-town outdoor group in the area is part of pulling that day off by helping out.
Groups all over are in a position where they struggle to find new members. If you can be active in one of those groups, that's great. Do it. Don't feel like they don't make a difference.
One thing I hear a lot as to why young people don't get involved is because they don't have time. Trust me, I get it. I'm guilty. My job requires me to work all kinds of odd hours. I'm generally writing until midnight about three times a week after covering events. My wife is a nurse who works 12-hour shifts, and we are constantly playing tag when it comes to who is home with our two daughters that are ages 5 and 1.
If your lifestyle is similar, and it is hard to find time to be as active as you might like in a group right now, don't underestimate the power of at least paying your dues.
Here is where some of these bigger organizations become so important. We are in a time when fewer and fewer resources are being put toward the outdoors, which means fighting for the outdoors on the political scene is as important as ever.
Politics is a dirty word in hunting and fishing. Many hunt and fish to free their minds of those sorts of things, but these outdoor groups are on the front lines making sure our kids still have quality places to hunt and fish.
Habitat loss, clean water and threats to public lands are real concerns. Want to hunt the elk that so many people were interested in hearing about at that seminar hosted by the Viking Sportsmen? That becomes much harder without access to the public lands that make that portion of the country so welcoming to out-of-state hunters.
A group like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers are fighting tirelessly for those public lands in congress right now. Pheasants Forever is pushing hard for 40 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program to be included in the 2018 farm bill. The Quality Deer Management Association, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation - the list of these important outdoor groups goes on.
Pick what topics you are most passionate about and support them. The more memberships these groups have, the more impact they make when fighting for the outdoors in a political climate that places less and less emphasis on wild places.
The cost will likely be $15-30 for a yearly membership fee. That's an easy way to get involved, to have a say in what hunting and fishing might look like in the future.