Who is fighting for Pennsylvania's sportsmen?
It's not an idea we often think about, but if we follow the action from a couple of states to our west, it's an idea we should make a priority.
The nation's hunting heritage is under a constant threat. There are all sorts of things pulling folks away from the sport. One of the strongest forces is the well-funded anti-hunting industry. These groups spend big bucks each year getting their tainted message across the airwaves. There's no doubt it has had an effect on our sport.
But, again, who is fighting for our hunters? A century ago, it wasn't necessary. We had great sportsmen such as Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot representing us. Even a generation ago, hunting was such an established practice that the sport didn't need to worry about constant attack.
These days, it's a different story. Across the country, we're losing hunters at an alarming rate. That's why recent initiatives by Colorado and Michigan are vital models to follow. Knowing the deep pockets of anti-hunting groups, and the ability that gives them to sway American public opinion, hunters in these states went on the offensive. They started their own media campaigns.
If you've been to Colorado recently, you've almost certainly seen the state's "Hug a Hunter" ads. They are simple TV and radio spots that tout the important benefits of our sport — from pumping more than $100 billion into the nation's economy each year to saving dozens of species from certain extinction.
What's happening in the state has become known as the "Colorado Model." It began nearly 20 years ago by pulling together the interests of sportsmen, conservation groups and farmers.
At first, it was funded by hunters and anglers through an optional donation when they purchased their licenses. But recently, something big happened. The group convinced the state's lawmakers to add a 75-cent per hunting surcharge to the state's license fees. The money collected is earmarked solely for pro-hunting marketing initiatives.
The effort has had a huge impact. Surveys are showing that more and more people are looking at hunters in a positive light. Thanks to the marketing campaign, non-hunters now understand the vital role hunters play in conservation and wildlife management. The Colorado Model has made a huge impact on the sport and its future. It dramatically slashed the effect of negative anti-hunting campaigns.
The idea is starting to catch on, getting the attention of hunters and lawmakers across the country. Recently, Michigan became the second state to adopt the model. It adopted a $1 per license surcharge. Again, every cent raised will go to showing Michigan's citizens that hunters and anglers are the state's best conservationists.
Sportsmen in these two states now have a powerful weapon. They are finally able to fight the attacks they've endured over the last decade. It is already swaying public opinion in the right direction.
So far, Pennsylvania doesn't have its eyes on this sort of model. But it's imperative we examine our options. If we don't spread the positive message, nobody will.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.