Friday, 27 April 2018

Conservation Advocacy: MLA's office and BHA Pint Night

Yesterday, I managed to get out to my MLA's office for a meeting with one of her assistants.  I am still trying to arrange a second meeting with my MLA Judy Darcy, here in New Westminster, but with the legislature sitting right now, MLAs are away from their constituency.  I will continue to try to arrange a meeting for the next time the legislature breaks.

The meeting went well and I felt that I was able to convey my key points.  I'll discuss those in a moment.  

Later in the evening I went to my first BC Chapter of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Pint Night.  The Region 2 Rep, Mark Robichaud and the Communications Rep for Region 2, Jeff Chan, were there as well as some familiar faces such as Dylan Eyers of EatWild, Rob Chipman, Mitch who I head met at the BC Sportsman's Show when we were two of just a few people listening to Jesse Zeman's presentation about managing to zero, and Grady who I met at the Beers for Wild Things event in February.  I also met a lot of new people who were all very dialed in and passionate hunter conservationists.   It was an excellent event.

Mark had asked me to do a short presentation about my political activism, so I tried to summarize how I approach letter writing to politicians and my MLA, rather than just talking about how many letters I have written or what they said.

This is how I try to communicate the message that hunters care about habitat, wildlife, and the future of wilderness in BC.  

I want to first say that I have pulled a lot of catch phrases from a lot of places, podcasts, and presentations, so please accept my reuse as flattery.

Know Your Audience
It is important to remember who you are talking or writing to.  If it is a person, try to understand who they are or what they know.  If it is the public, assume they are hunting-curious and probably eat meat, but also that they likely don't know much about the issues.  They will all probably be shocked by both the sad state of affairs and how much you know and care.
 
Politicians:     
- They are just normal people.  Some are good, some are not so good, some care, some won't. When I met my MLA Judy Darcy, I felt like I was having a nice conversation with my mom.  It wasn't at all intimidating.
- They may not know much about the issues, so you may need to start at the beginning and summarize.
- The are probably curious and interested, like most of the public.

Hunters:
- This is our echo chamber.  Everything you say will be echoed back at you with cheers and agreement.  
- While it makes you feel good, it doesn't further the cause to spend too much time trying to convince people who already agree with you.
- I think it is worth trying to get hunters to talk to non-hunters

Anti-Hunting Activists:
- Tiny minority of people who you will never convince.
- Arguing with them is not worth your time and isn't productive.

The Non-Hunting Public:
- Most people eat meat 
- Caring where your food comes from is really popular these days
- Many will be curious about hunting and know very little other than what's on social media, TV or in movies
- Would probably love to try some game meat.  "Venison Diplomacy" wins hearts and minds via the stomach.

- They occupy the sane middle ground and we want to be there with them.  The protest at Antler, the restaurant in Toronto where the Chef, Michael Hunter, butchered a deer leg in the window out of exasperation for the weekly protests, gained huge public support and support from moderate vegans for the restaurant.  We have the best story and it is a sane, normal, everyday person story.  We just need to tell the complete story... More on that to come below. (There is a great Joe Rogan Podcast with Michael Hunter.  It is excellent.)

Have a Clear Message
It pays to be organized and concise.  I know that being concise is a weakness of mine, so I really try to organize my letters or talking points into 3 clear points per letter or meeting.  Any more than 3 points, in my opinion, will be hard to follow or seem like you are rambling.

Who you are:
- I like to start with who I am.  Where you live matters to your MLA.  They care a heck of a lot more if you live in their community.  I explain that I am a hunter who grew up in Vancouver and came to hunting as a adult.  Through hunting my eyes were opened to the habitat destruction and declining wildlife numbers and that is why I am reaching out.

What you want:
- If you want a meeting, then ask for a meeting at their earliest convenience
- If you want changes such as Clear Management and Recovery Objectives, Science Based Management, Increased Funding, Wildlife and Habitat to be a Priority, Changes to Policy and Legislation, Biologists to be Included in Resource Extraction Planning and Remediation, etc. state those objectives clearly.

Why you care:
- Explain why it matters to you (Food, Nature, Future Generations, Tradition, Family)
- Explain why the things you have learned are upsetting and worrisome.


Use Info-graphics and Visual Aids When Possible:
- A picture is worth a thousand words 


It's About the Habitat
I like to always keep it about the habitat.  It sets a good tone when you focus on habitat issues. All studies indicate that the habitat is the key to conservation and the recovery of wildlife populations.  It helps all hunters if we can be seen as a voice for habitat.  It shows us in a positive light.  If the discussion focuses too heavily on the animals as themselves, then the result will be a reduction in the hunting of those animals in order to preserve them.  It is far better for us to keep the discussion about enhancing habitat to increase or protect the total population.

Clear Management Objectives:
- One way to keep it about the habitat is to have objectives.  Protecting specific areas, road deactivation, biodiversity objectives, fish and wildlife population objectives, prescribed burn to restore habitat objectives, etc.
- The objectives have to include solid numbers, not ratios or soft goals, or else no one will be held accountable.
 
Science Base Management:
 - I like to discuss how provincial biologists should be included in forestry planning and replanting to ensure biodiversity and high quality habitat.
- I also like to discuss how it is about giving people who are already government staff the funding and authority to do what they already know needs to be done. 

Funding:
Inevitably it will come to how to pay for it all.  I would prefer that funding is widely distributed so that it is everyone paying a little for a larger total. This includes ideas about:

- 100% License fees allocation
- Modest increase to License fees
- Excise taxes similar to in the US
- Including other user groups paying their share (Skiing, Biking, Eco-Tourism, etc.)
- Show discrepancies with our neighbours and the scale of how little funding we are really asking for ($700 million roof on BC place, $820 million Port Mann Bridge)

We Show Up!
I am a real person, from BC, who cares so much that I wrote this letter or came to this meeting.  I care even when it is not in the spotlight and I still care even when things didn't go my way.  Our opposition, anti-hunting activists and organizations, way on the other side of this debate, aren't going to take the time to meet with their MLAs and continue to advocate for wildlife and habitat after it is out of the media or after they achieve an objective to end a hunt.  I still advocate for grizzly bear habitat, even though the hunt has been ended, because I genuinely care about the habitat and grizzly bear populations.  I hope that it does not go unnoticed that the opposition groups have stopped caring now that they have achieved their objective of ending the hunt.  I generally think that the grizzly bear topic is very sensitive and divisive and I only bring it up once I have established a rapport with someone.


We Are Here to be Productive!
- I try to do everything I can not to seen angry, but rather really worried, upset, and distressed
- I try to say thank you for any funding increases or positive actions, but make it clear that it is only a first step and that there is so much more to do.
- I am here to help and answer any questions, be a resource for my MLA, and friend in the community.

 
Change the Narrative
-I do everything I can to come across as just an average person who cares about BC's native plants and animals, their habitat and where my food comes from. I don't wear camo or hunting t-shits to meetings.
-I think it is important for us to all work to change perception so that when people think of hunters they think about us being the strongest and most passionate advocates for habitat and wildlife. 

Tell the Complete Story:
Part of changing the narrative is accepting we have an image problem.  It is easy for hunters to be vilified as blood thirsty killers who just want to trophy hunt to cover our walls with heads, hides, and antlers.  

We all know who nonsense that is.  So, why is it so easy for us to come across so terribly?  In my opinion, it is because we have done little to try to understand what non-hunters think about.

1) If you are going to post on the internet or social media, it cannot be just a "Grip and Grin" of a dead animal.  Post the whole story, the planning, the days without success, the story of the success, the animal, the processing, the meat, and food, the meals, the enjoyment, the recipes, the memories.  Steven Rinella and MeatEater do a great job of ensuring every episode is a complete story and ends with a meal.  We need to do the same.

2) When a non-hunter hears "Trophy Hunting", "Trophy Animal", etc. they think that is the only value that that animal has to us.  They think that we won't eat the meat or use the hide. They hear "Killing for the sake of killing". We've lost that battle.  It's over.  I prefer the term "Selective Hunting" so that it is harder for people to misuse.  "Selective Hunting" didn't get as warm of a reception when I mentioned it last night at the meeting, but I still like it.  Anyways, be careful with the words you choose and understand how they will be interpreted.

3) Many non-hunters probably don't really want to think too hard about where their food comes from.  In the media there are tons of documentaries which show the horrible conditions in factory farming and there are great cooking shows which champion knowing where the food comes from.  It is very popular and trendy to talk about food security and ethical sources of food.  I explain how that was a significant reason why I got into hunting in the first place.  If you gently force people to confront the issue of where there burger or chicken comes from and explain that their discomfort is why hunting is so important it can be a great way to bridge the gap and explain why you do what you do.

4) Venison Diplomacy is Steven Rinella's term for sharing a game meal with someone to help break the ice and normalize hunting.  No one will dislike hunters after eating an amazing meal.

5) Occupy the sane middle ground.  We have the best story.  Habitat protection and restoration, caring about the health of fish and wildlife populations, ethical, organic, and hormone free meat, are all issues everyone can get behind.  We need to build bridges starting with these points.  

Ambassadors of Conservation
We need to realize that everything we do, say, or post reflects on us as hunters.  We need to be careful so that we can build friendships, allies, and gain public support.  We need to be in it for the long game, not simply reacting to events.  We need to look towards where we want to get to in 5, 10, 25, 50 years and work diligently to protect and enhance what we care so much about.  If we fail, there will be no wild places for future generations to learn about and appreciate what we are fighting to protect.

"The “greatest good for the greatest number” applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method."
Theodore Roosevelt

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