The mainstream public often knows little that is positive about hunters and fishermen. Colorado is taking a noteworthy step to change this with a series of radio, TV and billboard ads funded by a license surcharge.
Thirty-eight million Americans hunt and/or fish, but let's face it, folks, that's slightly less than 13 percent of the general public. In short, hunters and fishermen are a minority group. In some case, even an endangered species.
In the Information Age, the vast majority of people, including most of those who do not hunt or fish, spend over 95 percent of their time indoors, where first-hand contact with nature is limited and information primarily comes in over the media.
In that media-driven reality, the non-sportsmen majority hear and see a constant stream of messages about ecological issues and problems, most recently global warming, coming from a variety of groups that are dependant upon crises, real or imagined, to keep up their flow of funding coming. They also hear a constant patter of negative sound bites generated by animal rights groups.
Unless you are tuned to one of the outdoor cable networks, you will hear little or nothing positive about hunters and fishermen and their vital role in conservation. And how many non-sportsmen watch hunting and fishing shows?
The folks in Colorado's Department of Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife grasped this situation, and uniquely they decided to do something about it.
In 1999, the state legislature created the Wildlife Management Public Education Advisory Council. The job of the council is to develop and implement a comprehensive media-based information program to educate the general public about the benefits of wildlife, wildlife management, and wildlife-related recreation in Colorado.
The Council is made up of nine members:
• Two from the hunting and fishing public east of the continental divide.
• Two from the hunting and fishing public west of the continental divide.
• A representative from the agriculture and livestock industry.
• Another represents municipalities while the sixth represents counties.
(Both must be from communities impacted by hunting and fishing recreation and revenues.)
• The eighth member is a media/marketing expert.
• The final member represents the CDOW.
Despite its admirable mission, the Council lacked funding to accomplish its mission. Thus began a sequential program to educate sportsmen about the value of such a program, build support, and raise money.
Finally, legislation in 2005 authorized a $0.75 surcharge on most hunting and fishing licenses. Funds from this surcharge became available in mid-2006 and continued to build in 2007. As of June 30, 2006 the new program had generated slightly more than half a million dollars so that the dedicated fund totaled approximately $700,000.
From July 1, 2006 to mid-September the license surcharge generated approximately another $225,000, with the balance of the big game rifle hunting seasons still pending.
With this war chest, the Council retained a major advertising firm and began a massive PR campaign. Radio ads began in October, television ads in November and the outdoor billboard communications component started in January 2007. These are paid ads.
The first round of ads told people what the Colorado Division of Wildlife does. The second round clearly states that the Division of the Wildlife is supported by the licenses sales of hunters and fishermen.
The final wave of ads tells people about the economic impact of hunting, wildlife watching and fishing in the state almost one billion dollars.
Research finds that the average Colorado adult will see an average of 24 of these ads during the first year's campaign.
Hunting and fishing groups have done and continue to do a tremendous amount of work to preserve habitat, which is commendable and necessary.
Signs on tracts of remote lands preserved are valuable, but if people don't visit these places, they don't see the signs, and there is little value to educating the general public about the role of sportsmen in conservation.
In this modern media age, preserving habitat alone is not enough to insure the future of outdoor sports.
Yes, you can pass laws that protect legal hunting and fishing, but then opponents come along and chip away at what is "legal hunting" banning doves, cougar, urban deer, hunting with lead bullets, etc.
The Colorado campaign will raise awareness and change the image of outdoor sportsmen. That will not only help all people become aware, it will also help with recruitment as people come to understand the value of outdoor sports to conservation.
The future of hunting and fishing lies with the majority of the public who do not hunt or fish. The Council believes that the program will be on the "cutting edge" of what will evolve to be a national model for other states.
To my knowledge, it is. Colorado is taking a lead. Let's hope the rest of the nation will soon follow.
James Swan who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.