By: Ryan Duregger, Brad Rowse Policy Fellow, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
I am not a hunter or a fisherman. Growing up in a suburban area kept me largely out of contact with this community, and it was not until my time at Roanoke College in Salem, VA that I was able to immerse myself in true wilderness. Since my freshmen year at the school I have spent countless weekends out on the Appalachian Trail, and I can attribute my experiences there to my decision to major in Environmental Studies- a multidisciplinary field that will enable me to pour my passion of the outdoors into my professional career.
In an effort to kickstart this new chapter of my life, I turned to Washington, D.C. This is what led me to find the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF). Even though I had little hunting or fishing experience, I still chose to apply for their Brad Rowse Policy Fellow position, as my sentiment on conservation aligned with theirs. Prior to my time at CSF I could count on one hand the number of hunters and anglers I knew. This is not to say I had a distaste for outdoorsmen – in fact, I would argue the opposite. I have always admired the ethics surrounding their pursuit, though I never partook myself. My experience working alongside sportsmen and women have deepened this respect, as I now understand the critical role they play in conservation efforts.
To be blunt, I had absolutely no idea that hunters and anglers provide the vast majority of state-level conservation funding in this nation. I quickly learned that through the “user-pays, public-benefits” structure of the American System of Conservation Funding, it is our nation’s sportsmen and women that are making the critical conservation work of our state fish and wildlife agencies financially possible. What this means is that whether I participate in hunting or fishing myself, I have hunters and anglers to thank for keeping these amazing landscapes open to all.
I was also clueless about the rigorous “sound science” process that goes into crafting legislation that positively impacts the natural world- something many of my environmentalist peers choose to ignore, instead favoring arguments rooted in emotion. Perhaps my biggest surprise had to do with working alongside the staff at CSF. I was no hunter or fisherman. All I had to offer them was my enthusiasm for the outdoors, and my willingness to learn. This was more than enough, however, and I was welcomed from the moment I stepped foot into the office.
My time spent here at CSF will not be forgotten, and I attribute this to both the mission of the organization and the people I worked with. Admittedly, my policy experience coming into the position was limited, but the patience and positive energy surrounding the States Program Team and my supervisors gave me room to grow, and over the past three months I have learned a tremendous amount about both state and federal legislative and political processes. The smaller office size has allowed me to foster meaningful relationships with all of the staff here- something that will remain with me long after I have left this place. In a broader sense, working in this environment has made me more confident in myself, and where I will go in the future. For this, and for everything else, I would like to sincerely thank the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation for this experience.