Friday, November 11, 2011

The View from the Conservation Sidelines - Ain't It Grand?

"Hey Bobby! Your New York habitat projects SUCK!"
Ever notice that the people who are most critical of environmental conservation efforts are those with the least possible skin in the game?  The most obvious groups are animal rights activists and anti-sportsmen groups, who take pride in re-branding nearly every voluntary conservation effort in the United States as a "bribe to hunters and anglers" and/or "Let's protect our invasive species because they are cute!"  Groan.

But there's another group who's almost as dangerous to the future of hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation in this country - the outdoorsmen and women who

1. claim publicly that they adamantly refuse to support conservation groups, and

2. frequently move right into knee-jerking hyperbole when a conservation group asks them for vast sums of money, such as $25, or $35, with a free fleece vest, and

3.  do not appear to be interested in hearing about current research or data pertaining to their species of quarry.

What a combination.  Now, I'm not talking about the sportsman who supports Delta Waterfowl instead of Ducks Unlimited, or the businesswoman who annually underwrites a chapter fundraiser for Quail Forever instead of Quail Unlimited.  I'm talking about the other species - who I'll refer to as Mr. Sidelines.

I recently read a blog post (since this post, edited, then deleted) by a potential Mr. Sidelines, who inferred, among other things, that

1.  Brook trout populations are not, in fact, declining

2.  The Southern Appalachians do not extend to North Carolina and Virginia

3. Conservation groups raise false or overblown concerns about wildlife and the environment, just to raise money.

Yup, these are real groaners - especially when stated as fact and not opinion. But let's consider the actual problem here - it's actually NOT this blogger.

This blogger, Mr. Sidelines, seems to be getting bad information with the good.  He claims (and I believe him) that someone associated with a non-profit group told him that brook trout are declining due to overfishing, for example.  While that was true from 1780 to the mid 1900s, it's safe to say that most of us know it's not the case in 2011.  Second, I'd bet that this blogger probably questioned the validity of the overfishing statement, and if I had to guess, was probably stonewalled by whoever laid out that claim in the first place. Not helpful.

So.....the real problem.  People in our organizations - your organizations - are not effectively communicating accurate information to the people in their circles (who of course, are potential members, volunteers, and donors).  Even if just 10% of the information someone receives is false beyond the pale, you'll likely make an opponent of your group by sharing such statements, claims, or predictions with him or her.  Anyone inclined to act like a Mr. Sidelines will be compelled to SPEAK UP! about the terrible falsehood he or she heard......for everyone in his social circle to see.

In this day and age, your conservation group cannot afford these lapses of information to potential members or donors.  Some tips:

1.  Make sure that down to the local volunteers, you are providing timely and scientifically accurate information.  For most fish and wildlife resources, the truth - the data - the real information......are all plenty scary enough. Find a way to ensure that "the right message" (meaning timely, accurate, and applicable to the organization) is truly making its way down through the ranks.

2.  Make sure that the cost of inaction is phrased reasonably and accurately.  Again, Mr. Sidelines was told that eastern brook trout are facing imminent extinction within the next 20 years.  We all (and he) know this information to be untrue, but there's a fair chance that someone told him that, in the hopes of raising awareness and urging action now, not later. Not a good tactic.

3. Be able to provide real scientific resources to members, volunteers, and donors.  There should be an easy way for your members to ask a senior volunteer or staff member things like, "I heard we're not planting bayberries for quail any more.  Is that based on some scientific study....and can I get a copy?" The answer to both questions should be "yes."

4. At some point, accept that a heckler will be a heckler, and you need to move on with your life.  Some people were born to sit on the sidelines and criticize others as an excuse for failing to take action of their own, and have no interest in learning the facts about which they so ardently complain.   Remind your volunteers that at first contact, the "Heckler 4 Life" will be indistinguishable from the "potential life member who is a bit suspicious about scientific claims."  However, the difference in two such individuals becomes apparent soon enough.  Sure enough, Haters Gonna Hate, and once you identify these folks, they're best left to their own world where facts are false, pleas for action are conspiracies to get rich, and no problem is big enough or local enough that they need to bother themselves with getting informed. As a non-profit leader, you can't fix that. But you can move!


Sanders said...

Enjoyed the read. Really nicely said. Cheers!

River Mud said...

Thanks! As a long time staff person and volunteer of a ton of conservation organizations, nothing burns me up more than somebody who refuses to get involved but magically has ALL of the answers.

That being said, I get really energized by hearing from folks who say, "You're doing it wrong. We're doing it a different way - come check it out."

We don't all have to agree. But we should all speak honestly, and truthfully about our natural resources, AND take action in a meaningful way to take care of those resources.

Thanks for stopping by!

DocOutlaw said...

Touche! Very well written, and very funny. I laughed quite a bit, and may have peed a little. Sadly, I spend far too much time working with folks of the "we don't go in for all that book learnin'" persuasion.

Tom Sadler said...

Well done. I know of who you speak and responded to the post you reference. Thanks for stepping into the fray and offering sound comments. In that case i adopted your good advice that "they're best left to their own bizarro-world"

I enjoy your blog and will add it to the MIddle River Dispatch conservation blog roll!

River Mud said...

Owl, if your argument is that my post about a caricature (which is not necessarily written about you, a single person) is 49% reflective of untrue, inaccurate, and ill-informed things you wrote and inferred on your own website, I mean...we can go there.

Conservation groups are RIFE with problems, and it doesn't take much work to factually point them out and say, "this is why I choose not to support conservation organizations," or even as far as "this is why I encourage my readers not to support this organization."

I guess that's why I was so surprised you went to so much effort to write your post and not communicate, with sound facts, the subject that you're passionate about.

How awesome would it have been to show your readers a list of quotes from trout experts across the southern Appalachians about how brook trout are just fine, and then counter those factual statements with requests for money from local TU chapters, who keep telling you the "threat is imminent."

I don't know why everything in your world has to be this "conservative vs. liberal" ideological battle. You chose to write a bizarre piece on your opinion of the state of conservation. It (I think) never mentioned the word "liberal" (or its inverse) and neither did I.

River Mud said...


Into the fifth year and 300,000+ page views of this blog, and just received the first controversial, self-deleted comment by a reader! Ever!

I'll take it as a cue to move on with my week.