Gun Owners Step Up, Hunters…Not So Much

Jim Shepherd has an interesting report on the various species conservation groups.

Overlooked in the economic hubbub is the toll a bad economy takes on wildlife advocacy groups. Many depend solely on memberships and donations for their revenues. For many of those groups, the numbers have dropped – some precipitously. In fact, I’m hearing the numbers at a couple of the larger and more active groups have dropped as much as fifty percent. That is a serious knock on even their bottom lines.

It could be that some members were upset when 20 groups signed up to support Obama’s cap & trade agenda. Of course, that doesn’t explain nearly every loss, but getting involved in unrelated issues is usually a very good way to drive off members.

For some groups, there are other problems, including costly litigation with ousted former executives. Quail Unlimited, the oldest and largest of the quail groups, is under criminal investigation by the ATF unaccounted firearms; those investigations and management problems have splintered that organization, left it without an executive management team, and have state QU groups vowing to fix the organization – even if it means starting from scratch. In the meantime, the organization as surviving – but is essentially ineffective nationally.

Well that is interesting. I wonder if they are an FFL. But more importantly, where are the guns? Did someone decide they were an unwritten perk to membership? Speculation, but interesting.

While their situation is unusual, membership losses have led many groups to reduce staff and cutback on programs. Their ongoing wildlife programs have been invaluable resources to many state wildlife agencies also feeling budget squeezes.

Yesterday, I spoke with David Allen, President and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation about the situation. Allen was candid about the problems many organizations face. After all, he told me, RMEF had faced many of their own “challenges” over the past few years. RMEF, he says, is regaining momentum – and members – by focusing on realities and their core constituency -hunter conservationists.

“Some groups have been living beyond their means,” he said, “you can’t live in anticipation of money. Here, for example, I tell the staff ‘we won’t spend money we don’t have’. It meant downsizing our undertakings and cutting expenses, but it is just an economic reality.”

Allen says finances aren’t the single biggest challenge facing organizations. That, he says, is a one-word threat: complacency. Complacency, he says, is reflected in the fact that there are 1,000,000 elk tags sold annually – but only twenty percent of those hunters are RMEF members. While it’s unrealistic to presume all off them would ever become RMEF members, Allen makes a good case that the absence of that remaining eighty percent of elk hunters- as is true in any affinity wildlife group – deprives the organization of the two things that fuel their work: funds, and volunteers.

He remains convinced, however, that the single biggest concern for all wildlife groups can be summed up in a single word: habitat. Fighting habitat loss, unfortunately, takes time, money and volunteers. Today, many of the organizations are lacking in money and volunteers – and that may mean their time is running out.

“As a group,” he adds,”we also tend not to support each other and act as a group until there’s a crisis – then we overreact.”

Will all the groups survive? “Not without some consolidation, I’m afraid,” Allen said,”we have to find ways to get together for some of these groups to survive. I’m not optimistic everyone will.”

It’s good to hear that RMEF is surviving by being true to their main members and not hoping on board with the HopeChange plans just to curry favor in a temporary administration with declining numbers.

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