CLFT comes to Ringneck Ranch

Below is a story written by Richard McCabe of the McGraw Wildlife Foundation:

Anna sort of got it even before the workshop started. Denise got it during an ethics discussion. Charlene got it during a fire pit gathering when no one was saying much of anything. Nick got it when a pheasant flushed a few feet away, and Hannah got it on the drive back to college.

According to confidential questionnaires, these students and more than 350 others have eventually gotten “it”—the relationship of hunting to conservation and careers in natural resources—by participating in the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow (CLfT) program. “CLfT isn’t simply about ensuring hunting opportunity for hunters now,” wrote one graduate student from the University of West Virginia. “It is about ensuring hunting for conservation in the future.”

Launched in 2005, the CLfT program—developed by the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) and funded mainly by the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation (MMWF)—was designed to provide non-hunting upper class and graduate students in natural resource disciplines with a better understanding of the roles and values of hunting. The initial catalyst for the program was a concern expressed by state wildlife agency officials that many of their new hires had no familiarity with hunting or hunting stakeholders. Agencies feared that these new professionals—and eventual decision makers—would therefore have little appreciation for hunting, the linchpin of conservation.

These apprehensions were well-founded. According to an unpublished survey by WMI in 2004, fewer than 50 percent of students graduating with wildlife degrees had a hunting background. Among those graduating with degrees in other natural resource disciplines, fewer than 30 percent had been exposed to hunting. Likewise, fewer faculty members in natural resource sciences hunt or acknowledge its importance to their students.

Equally sobering, the wildlife profession projected a 70 percent turnover between 2007 and 2017, and game management has become a vanishing course of study at universities (Baydack et al. 2009). These and other trends signaled the need for a program like CLfT. The question was, if WMI and MMWF built it, would students come?

Building Blocks

The CLfT format was inspired by the Wisconsin Student Hunting Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and incorporates many of the same topics and activities. In addition, CLfT adopted teaching materials from the handful of universities that teach about the culture of hunting, as well as from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA), Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW), and the National 4-H Shooting Sports program. Finally, CLfT has borrowed ideas from hunters, educators and, eventually, from students themselves.

Today, after five years and two dozen workshops, CLfT continues to evolve. Now offered through 34 universities at facilities in seven states (see box on page 73), the program exists not to recruit hunters, but to provide participants with insight about hunters and the relationship of hunting to conservation. “Through my career I have seen a lot of models for letting non-hunters know about the values of hunting in a modern society,” says Patt Dorsey, a CLfT instructor from the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “No one is on par with CLfT. [It has] found a way to teach about hunting—as opposed to teaching hunting— in a cerebral and philosophical way.”

CLfT’s instructors—numbering more than 140—must be veteran hunters, experienced communicators, and dedicated conservationists. Vocationally, they are divided nearly equally among academia, state or federal government agencies, and NGO conservation organizations, retirees, and other professionals. To become a CLfT instructor, candidates must go through a two-day training and orientation session and then participate in a workshop. University faculty who are CLfT instructors also serve as student advisors to enlist workshop participants, provide program orientation, and arrange transportation. These advisors determine which of their students will benefit most from a CLfT workshop, giving priority to graduate students and those deemed most likely to be in future leadership roles. A number of non-hunting university faculty and administrators as well as federal and state agency personnel also have attended the workshops.

Regardless of background, most CLfT students have never held a hunting license. About 65 percent have been females, and most students have urban or suburban backgrounds. Pre-workshop surveys have shown that most participants arrive not unfavorably disposed towards hunting, but with little understanding of its role in conservation, its inextricable link to resource management, and its economic, social, and personal value. Perhaps 10 percent of students have been vegetarians, and fewer than 10, including several PETA members, were professed anti-hunters. According to post-workshop surveys, 98 percent of participants ranked their experience as worthwhile.

The Core Curriculum

Although the curriculum varies somewhat depending on season and weather, it invariably involves a dozen roundtable discussions and 14 basic field exercises. Ideally, 16 students from at least three universities participate. Instructor numbers vary from nine to 15. Though free to present roundtable topics as they wish, instructors are encouraged to make the material as interactive and creative as possible within the allotted time of about an hour per topic. Field exercises are taught in a uniform manner for safety considerations.

A CLfT workshop typically begins on a Wednesday evening when instructors arrive to get settled and review student lists, lesson plans, equipment needs, and logistics. Students arrive the next afternoon and typically experience the following:

Day 1: Thursday. Students and advisors arrive by about 3:30 p.m. After check-in, orientation, and dinner they’ll participate in roundtable discussions about Who Hunts and Why and Hunting Safety. Afterwards, instructors will address shotgun handling and safety and help fit students with shotguns by assessing eye dominance, which determines rightor left-handed shooting.

Day 2: Friday. Packed from 7 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., this day offers the bulk of the coursework, with roundtable discussions, field exercises, and a hunter education exam. Roundtable discussions include issues such as the Role of Hunting in Wildlife Management and Conservation, Hunting Laws and Regulations, the Role of Hunting in Society, and the Biological Basis of Hunting. Through these roundtables, students gain an understanding of the basics of hunting game populations and of hunting’s values and complexities. They also learn that the privilege or (in some states) right of hunting can be easily abused in the absence of proper laws, regulations, and ethical standards.

Field exercises give students hands-on experience with hunting-related skills including:

• Handling rifles, shotguns, and muzzleloaders. Training covers firearm parts, actions, safety, basic rules, zones of fire, and ammunition (such as shot shell and cartridge parts, gauges and calibers, shot size, and lead vs. nontoxic shot). In groups of three or four, students rotate through five stations to practice mounting, stance, loading, and unloading of various firearms.

• Shooting and hunting skills, where students practice field carries, crossing fences and other obstacles with firearms, zones of fire, BB gun and trap shooting, game recovery, and more.

• Dog training, handling, and care.

• Stalking game.

• Archery. That evening, all students take the participating state’s hunter certification exam, whether or not they wish to hunt the next day.

Day 3: Saturday. After breakfast and a morning review of the exam results (all CLfT students have passed so far), the group discusses hunter responsibilities and ethics. Instructors cover ethical dilemmas such as baiting, access/trespass scenarios, snow goose hunting, and use of robo ducks and scent lures. This is followed by field exercises that include pheasant hunting, dressing and packaging game, cooking game, and post-hunt care of dogs and equipment. After a dinner of pheasant or other game meats, the students and instructors discuss contemporary management issues that involve hunting such as chronic wasting disease, trophy hunting, conservation financing, and high-fence and game preserve hunting. The day concludes after the shotguns are cleaned.

Before leaving on Sunday, students and instructors will discuss any questions or lingering issues, then respond to a post-workshop survey before heading back to school. “CLfT has had an amazing impact on the students who have participated,” says instructor Gary San Julian of Penn State University. “I see it in their classwork and in those who have joined the professional ranks: Voices strengthened by experience rather than just education.”

New Models for the Future

The CLfT program is filling a need absent in academia. Its facility owners and operators see the program as an investment in their future and that of conservation. Most of all, CLfT succeeds because it fulfills a genuine interest on the part of students to understand what hunting is and who hunters are. “I’d always seen hunting in a negative light,” says Marco Sanchez, a wildlife and fisheries student at Michigan State University who had never shot a gun before participating in a CLfT workshop in the fall of 2009. “But for anyone going into natural resources who hasn’t had much exposure to hunting, it’s important to open yourself to new ideas and other viewpoints.”

To expand on its success, CLfT is supporting new spin-off programs. These include an on-campus evening and weekend course, a train-the-trainer program for state agencies, and workshops for non-hunters from wildlife agencies and university faculties—the first of which was conducted in January 2010. This momentum is vital, given current trends. “I am concerned with the growing disconnect between state fish and wildlife agencies and university wildlife programs,” says CLfT instructor John Organ of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “CLfT is the first comprehensive program to bridge this gap. Its students have an indelible experience such that their attitudes towards hunting as a component of wildlife management will be positive and endure.”


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