By Kent Salazar
According to "Hunting in America" a report [PDF] published by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), hunters are the greatest force for conservation in the country. Their findings show that sportsmen contribute nearly $8 million a day to wildlife agencies and conservation. They also donate $440 million annually to conservation and sportsmen’s organizations. All together, hunters contribute over $1.6 billion annually to conservation.
For hunters and anglers, conservation makes perfect sense. We must be stewards of the wild just as a farmer must be a steward of his land to ensure a bountiful harvest in years to come. For Hispanics, it goes even further, as it’s part of our culture. Hunting and fishing are centuries-old traditions, and we know that in order to enjoy these activities, we depend upon healthy watersheds, clean air, and robust wildlife habitats.
We are a powerful force for conservation as revealed by findings from two other reports – a Hispanic market study conducted by the NSSF found that the percentage of Hispanics who participated in outdoor recreation (camping, boating, hiking, golfing, fishing, etc.) in the past year was 72 percent and polling conducted by HECHO found that 93 percent of Latinos surveyed believe the government should protect public lands for recreation and the overall health of the environment.
Despite widespread use of public lands and overwhelming support for conservation, Latinos are still largely underrepresented in local and national conversations about these issues. Why the disconnect? It’s a question that comes up frequently at HECHO and we’re committed to finding solutions to this problem.
We recently addressed the issue on a Sustainable Recreation panel for the USDA Forest Service Southwestern Regional Chief’s Review. We urged the Forest Service to more effectively reach out and engage multi-cultural communities by fostering leadership, especially during decision-making processes. Empowering multi-cultural communities to be leaders and inviting them to participate in discussions about the future of our lands is so critical. And there are many agencies that could, and should, be building these bridges.
The NSSF Hispanic market study found that state wildlife agencies are well recognized and well thought of by Hispanics, with 61 percent awareness and a 37:1 positive-to-negative image score. Can we leverage that sentiment to increase engagement in local conservation efforts and awareness of and engagement in institutions like the BLM, as well? Additionally, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (whose members include all of the state offices) has prioritized recruitment of Hispanic hunters for 2016. Is there an opportunity here to not just recruit, but also to empower?
Sportsmen and women contribute millions of dollars a day to support wildlife agencies and conservation. The majority of Hispanics enjoy outdoor recreation and overwhelmingly support conservation. The outdoor industry and state agencies are actively courting the Hispanic demographic to more actively participate in hunting and fishing. The only thing missing from this picture is a seat at the table. When these entities come together to discuss managing the land and water we recreate on, the Hispanic voice should be invited and heard.