For a little over a year I was the Great Lakes Outreach Coordinator for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. I’ve left that role and back in corporate America. In that time I learned an absolute ton about land and wildlife conservation from some amazing people. One thing I learned though is that the single greatest need in the fight to conserve our wild lands, water and wildlife in North America . . . . is your voice.
The reason I fell in love with BHA years ago as a volunteer and eventually a state chapter board member was because they didn’t ask for my money so much as my time and my voice. No doubt money is important for conservation work but it isn’t the only thing of value. After volunteering in various levels and working for BHA as a contractor I’ve come to realize that the voices of people that care about our public lands and natural resources are the most valuable thing we could hope to harness. In various instances over the last year I’ve seen issues come up that were seemingly insurmountable but were toppled by the overwhelming voices of passionate hunters and anglers willing to step up for the things they hold dear and protect them not just for themselves but others. There are quite a few examples from HR 621 that would sell off millions of acres of public lands that got thousands and thousands of people to voice their opinion, to an urgent call to action for the DeWard Tract in Michigan where additional and likely damaging ORV access was proposed and we quickly got about 100 or so people to speak up to protect it in about 48 hours. Each of these examples are major wins and shows how when even a handful of people make their voices heard, big things can happen.
In harnessing your voice there are few pointers that will make any passionate outdoorsman or woman incredibly effective. I’ve had the pleasure, and displeasure I guess, of interacting with people that run the spectrum of opinions and I’ve found 4 key concepts that will help you communicate your message and be heard.
Calm Sense of Urgency
A calm sense of urgency will go a long way. Messaging that resembles ‘The Sky Is Falling’ and gets in people’s faces with simple abrupt phrases, even if they’re true, turn people off fast. When has anyone shouting at you ever convinced you of anything? Likely never. Many of these conservation issues are extremely urgent and if you let the urgency take hold of your voice too much your own screams will silence you to the masses and decision makers. A calm, explanatory voice backed by science and reason will win many more people than someone losing their mind over an issue. Phrases and hashtags work great on social media but in true interpersonal interaction a calm, educated sense of urgency will win.
No matter the issue there is always a contingent of opposition, otherwise it wouldn’t be an issue. Similar to the calm sense of urgency is the idea of ‘respectful opposition.’ Most often the only people you can ‘win over’ are those that are undecided and that’s where the calm sense of urgency is best used, but for those that straight up oppose your view, respectfully seeing their point of view and presenting your side may not convince them to change their mind but it will may help down the road. It’s hard, but when interacting with those that oppose you remember that they’re just as convinced they’re in the right as you. What would someone have to do to change your mind? Use that when discussing ideas and concepts with them but in the least know that you’re not trying to do anything more than successfully and respectfully represent your side. If the opposition starts yelling, well then you’ve won over that undecided person behind them that was listening in. There are always others watching and being the voice of reason in an argument can make all the difference!
Facts & Passion
When talking with people, among the concepts above are the two things that people can’t discount or negate which are facts and passion. Regardless of the topic, do your research and have actual facts either based on policy or science depending on the issue at hand. Though people are always willing to argue or discount facts they stand much better than saying you heard something or think something. Then backing your facts with passion really seals the deal. I’ve found this combo works great with elected officials and their staff. If you come to them with a respectful and factual basis for what you are requesting and then back that up with passion and real experience around what you’re working to protect it can make a profound and memorable impact. To that effect letting the facts speak to the doom and gloom and then back it with a lighthearted story or meaningful experience leaves people willing to at least consider your request. Often the most memorable experiences aren’t what people expect. They expect you to speak to the grandeur and beauty but everyone knows that stuff. What they don’t know is how you spent a week backpack hunting there, it rained everyday and on the last day you had a close encounter with a bugling bull and never got a shot but you think about that experience daily. That experience shows dedication to and passion for the land, the animals and your pursuit. That makes an impact.
Perhaps the easiest thing to do is just show up. Whether it’s writing an e-mail, a letter, making a phone call or showing up to a public hearing, be there. On a trip to D.C. to meet with the staff of various legislators I was completely impressed with how the staff actually sat, listened and took notes on the topics we discussed with them. Similarly you’ll likely be treated well when making phone calls. People are often afraid or hesitant to call up their representatives office but whether you believe it or not they’re there for you and the vast majority want to do what they believe is the right thing. Being an elected official requires they become ‘instant experts’ on everything from labor laws, to taxes, to wildlife conservation. If you don’t educate them on your side of things, they may only get an education from the opposition and it’s often a sound argument on a superficial level.
The first step in all of this is to get involved and get educated. There is a lot of bad info out there but it’s usually pretty easy to spot. Start by getting involved with a conservation group like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Talk with your elected officials, Department of Natural Resources and any local conservation groups. They don’t always have names that indicate they are avid hunters and fisherman but within their ranks there’s almost always a strong contingent of us. And of course there are several other amazing conservation organizations like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited and Pheasants Forever among others.