By Soren Nelson, Pacific Southwest States Coordinator, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
As the son of two conservation professionals, I grew up with a unique appreciation for what it takes to maintain the land and resources that so many sportsmen and women hold dear. It is easy to take for granted the pristine tracts of land that have nurtured our economy, our culture, and our wildlife for so long – and many people do. Behind hunting and fishing – two of America’s greatest traditions – there is a complex system of scientists, advocates, and policy-makers that make it possible for sportsmen and women across the country to continue enjoying our traditions.
Of all the groups and people that work to protect our outdoor heritage, perhaps none are more important than state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses. These caucuses, which are active in some capacity in nearly every state, vary greatly in size, structure, and name. Despite their many differences, they all need support. Legislators from my home state of California often have constituencies whose size and diversity rival those of many Members of Congress. And while California has the luxury of being a full-time, professional legislature that comes with staff and resources, many state legislatures do not have these same luxuries. In many states, legislators may have just a few staff members – or even none – to help them sort through the noise and identify policy priorities.
As sportsmen and women, we have to be willing to put on a suit and tie just as we would waders or camo. The more than 2,000 sportsman-legislators across the country who are part of sportsmen’s caucuses are in a unique position to advance outdoor access, wildlife conservation, funding for state natural resource agencies, among other issues of vital importance to the continuation of our hunting and fishing traditions; but they can’t do it alone. Whether you’re a policy wonk or not, our state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses need help identifying issues that are most important to the outdoor sporting community, as well as educating the public about the important role that sportsmen and women play in the American System of Conservation Funding.
There are a number of ways that the sportsmen’s community can support our state caucuses. Many sportsmen’s caucuses host small events throughout the year, both during the legislative session and when the legislature is in recess. Often centered around a particular policy issue, they not only serve to educate legislators, but they are – in my experience – the best way to acquaint yourself with the conservation community in your state. Supporting these events goes a long way to ensure that your state’s caucus remains active and effective.
No event does more to support legislative sportsmen’s caucuses at the state level than the annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsmen-Legislator Summit. Hosted by a caucus from a different region of the United States every year, the Summit brings together many of these 2,000 sportsman-legislators from across the country, along with leaders in the conservation community to share ideas and identify strategies to ensure that our outdoor heritage will continue to be passed from one generation to the next.
I’ve spent my entire life hunting on public land. My father was a biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for over 30 years. My mother – whose grandfather was among the nation’s first forest rangers – devoted her entire career with the US Forest Service to ensure that I would have the same access to public land and hunting that she has enjoyed in her lifetime. For me, conservation is a family affair, and I couldn’t be prouder to carry on that tradition by supporting legislative leaders that are committed to advancing our outdoor heritage.