A Conservation Council


(This 1233rd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on November 9, 2014.)


Many years ago when I was president of the Genesee Ornithological Society in Rochester, I was asked to represent the society on the Monroe County Conservation Council. I accepted the invitation and spent several years as a member. They were very rewarding years.


At first I was uncomfortable at the meetings. Before my appearance the Council membership was entirely drawn from the hunting, angling and trapping communities. As almost anyone will attest, being a newcomer at meetings of people you do not know is not easy, but in this setting I faced more serious difficulties. I represented a community usually identified as opposed to everything these people stood for. And indeed I did oppose some of their views.


Recognizing my discomfort, the Council's leaders went out of their way to accept my presence and I soon was recognized as the group's token tree-hugger. In fact, however, when that designation was used (as it would be later by Mike Levy at the News), it was always with an accompanying grin. That designation helped accommodate me.


And what soon became apparent was the fact that we had much in common. Despite their negative reputation among many of my personal friends, these men and women I soon realized were not the enemy. We share many attitudes toward wildlife and conservation.


Easily the best examples of this are seen through the state and national wildlife reserves purchased through their license fees and duck stamps. There are 150 federal reserves that total over 234,000 square miles and here in New York alone we have 62 square miles in federal and 300 square miles in state lands, most set aside for wildlife. These lands were almost all purchased and are now supported through their contributions. We hikers and bird watchers take those reserves for granted and too few of us even buy a duck stamp to support them.


Of course our views diverged on some sensitive issues and our minds were rarely changed on those issues. But over time both they and I realized that our communities were not represented by the extremists that so often characterize us. These were not people who believed that their second amendment rights entitled them to carry flame throwers and howitzers into local groceries. And I was as concerned as they were about the actions by animal rights extremists, although our motivations differed. Their concerns centered on hunting-related actions, mine on AR attacks on research facilities.


Even when we differed and retained our differences, we at least heard each other out. And because my council membership worked out, over time other organizations, among them the local Audubon Society and the Rochester Museum, were invited to send representatives to that conservation council. Mine then was no longer a lone voice.


I think that we need such organizations that bring together representatives of the so-called outdoor sports and those of us the federal government calls wildlife-associated recreationists. If we had such an organization, we might be able to reach some compromises and, even if we did not, we could gain insights into and appreciation for our opponents' motivations.


A good example of this today is, I suggest, our differing approaches to the SAFE Act. I have highly respected friends in the hunting community whose attitude is straightforward: get rid not only of the act but anyone who voted for it. At the same time I am convinced that a large plurality of non-hunters, almost all of whom know nothing whatsoever about the bill's provisions, see it as an important response to events like the Newtown school killings.


It seems to me that there is much wrong about this situation. Anyone who approves of this law should at least understand its provisions and what they mean to gun owners. And I would ask the law's opponents if  there is no provision whatsoever in the current version that is worth retaining?


At the same time I do understand one deeply felt concern of hunters and anglers: that their community is increasingly threatened as the country becomes ever more urbanized. Thus they worry that any retreat on their part could easily lead to a rout. This is a posture that I believe is understandable. Some of it should be mitigated, however, by the fact that the long-term decline in the population of hunters and anglers has been reversed in recent years.


Such concerns could at least be discussed in such a council.-- Gerry Rising