OUR INTERVIEW WITH SPORTSMEN'S ALLIANCE VP OF COMMUNICATIONS - PART 1
Our friends at Sportsmen's Alliance are leading the charge in the protection of hunting, fishing, and trapping rights throughout the country, a vision we share. With an existence that spans 5 separate decades, they have been a top advocate for sportsmen in the United States.
Sportsmen's Alliance had a relatively modest beginning as a defense of Ohio trapping, but that soon led to a bigger and better focus.
The Alliance's work would not be nearly as successful if not for the dedicated efforts of their knowledgeable and hardworking staff. One of those individuals, Vice President of Communications and Marketing Brian Lynn, is a 15 year veteran of the outdoors communication universe. His previous credentials include working as the Senior Editor for ESPN Outdoors and Outdoor Life Magazine, as well as Texas Hunting and Fishing Magazine.
Brian Lynn has an incredible passion for hunting, fishing, and conservation, and you can definitely tell that when you hear him discuss these issues. We recently talked to him about Sportsmen's Alliance's background, the work they are doing for sportsmen, and some of the greatest challenges they face.
How was Sportsmen's Alliance founded?
The roots of the Sportsmen’s Alliance are grounded in protecting trapping in Ohio. In 1977, Ballot Issue 2 threatened to ban trapping in the state. A group of Columbus-area businessmen, wildlife management experts, and campaign management professionals came together to fight the initiative. After they succeeded in defeating the ban, sportsmen from other states began calling and asking for help in defeating similar anti-hunting and -trapping proposals. It quickly became clear that the country’s sportsmen needed an organization dedicated to protecting their interests.
While a multitude of conservation and gun-rights organizations get involved at times in fighting the animal-rights movement, their primary objectives are focused elsewhere. Fighting these groups and protecting the interest of sportsmen is the sole mission of the Sportsmen’s Alliance.
What is the mission of the Sportsmen's Alliance and what do you hope to accomplish?
The mission of the Sportsmen’s Alliance is to protect hunting, fishing, and trapping from animal-rights-based initiatives that seek to limit and end those interests – and in turn that undermine scientific wildlife management and the North American model of wildlife conservation. We’ve already done this by drafting the original language that was the model for the hunter harassment laws used in all 50 states, and we continue to protect outdoorsmen by monitoring every bill in all 50 state legislatures, fighting animal-rights organizations at the ballot box when they try to manipulate the initiative process and in the court system by representing the interests of sportsmen in lawsuits and other legal proceedings.
In addition to protecting the interests of hunters, anglers, and trappers, the Sportsmen’s Alliance seeks to expand opportunities for them by initiating legislation that guarantees access to public lands (such as the Open Until Closed language in the Bi-Partisan Sportsmen’s Act), reducing barriers for new hunters to experience the sports (such as Families Afield legislation) and introducing youth to outdoor activities (such as Trailblazer Adventure Program).
A broader initiative the Sportsmen’s Alliance has undertaken is communicating with non-hunters. The vast majority of non-hunters (nearly 80 percent) approve of hunting as a management tool, but are easily swayed by the emotional rhetoric of the animal-rights movement and lack of understanding when it comes to the scientific and biological management of wildlands and wildlife. If we hope to preserve and advance outdoor lifestyles in this country, non-hunters must understand the important role hunters, anglers, and trappers play in the country’s conservation of wildlife.
[caption id="attachment_6798" align="aligncenter" width="301"] Photo via sportsmensalliance.org[/caption]
What are the biggest challenges to the hunting community?
Perhaps the biggest issue facing the hunting community is the hunting community itself. We can be our own worst enemies. There’s a bit of an egocentric apathy that has allowed animal-rights groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States, to pass state-based legislation that undermines hunting as a whole and the scientific management of individual species.
Until hunters are faced with a threat directly impacts, too many are content to sit back and not engage in the fight to stop seemingly small attacks. The strategy for animal-rights groups is death by a thousand cuts.
Animal-rights groups target methods such as trapping or hound hunting for bears in one state and force it onto the ballot and then throw large amounts of money into an emotional television campaign aimed at swaying voter opinion. When they’re successful, they then use that as precedence and move to the next state and use the victory as an example of “reasonable” regulation, and then continue to spread the initiative to other states, eventually circling back to the original states to amend the laws so they infringe upon more and more seasons and tactics.
The number of hunters who object to these attacks often aren’t enough to counteract the emotional rhetoric and significant funding behind these well-organized campaigns. That is one challenge facing hunters at the moment: unifying the vote to protect hunting as a whole instead of only individual interests. If all deer hunters contributed to and protected smaller interests such as bear, coyote, and mountain lion hunters (all of which impact deer-herd numbers), regardless of whether they used bait, traps, or hounds, animal-rights organizations would have a much harder time passing legislation at the state level.
What are some of the more important issues you've worked on this year and will work on next year?
This past year was busy with the usual items we see every year – legislation aimed at dog owners, breeders, and kennels, and which is often couched as stopping “puppy mills,” but that can catch sporting dog owners, trainers and breeders up with ambiguous language, as well as expansion of our Families Afield initiatives, which reduces barriers for new hunters wanted to try the sport – we’re set to see this program reach 40 states in early 2016.
However, some of the larger issues of 2015 included the appeal of the decision to return the Great Lakes gray wolves to the protections of the Endangered Species Act, two lawsuits surrounding the trapping of Canada lynx in Maine, and the Bi-Partisan Sportsmen’s Act.
In the first week of December we filed a brief to appeal the wolf decision, which flew in the face of policy and precedent established in 1978 that clearly allows for distinct populations of animals to be listed or removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. There’s no doubt that wolves have recovered in the Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, but what we’re seeing now is manipulation of the act by animal-rights organizations – primarily the Humane Society of the United States – with frivolous lawsuits.
Appealing the case, and seeking to return wolves to the management of states and their boots-on-the-ground biologists, will continue to be a huge issue for us in 2016.
We’re involved in two lawsuits that have to do with incidental take of Canada lynx in Maine. These cases have far reaching implications beyond the trapping of lynx. If successful, the animal rights community will use the legal precedent set as a means to attack all hunting, fishing, and trapping in areas where endangered or threaten species are found. Along with the wolf appeal, these will occupy our time in 2016, too.
The Bi-Partisan Sportsmen’s Act, which began working its way through committees in late 2015, is a huge deal for sportsmen and is something the Sportsmen’s Alliance is dedicated to passing – especially the open-until-closed portion of the bill. This language will ensure access to federal public lands for sportsmen. We are hopeful the Senate will pass the Act in the coming months.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with Brian Lynn.