When hunters take action… on their own

Dear Mr. Dively:

First, we want to thank you for taking the time to interview with us and for assisting us to showcase your organization to the Greek hunting and reading public, so that they may see how non-governmental organizations can make things happen.

It is my pleasure to try and give insight as to what our organazation does. I will try and cover each question as thorough as possible and in the order you asked them.

1- Our visit to the organization’s website suggests that the SRWA organization was originally formed in 1980. Can you please give us some details of how this happened and what conditions made the group come together?

The SRWA was incorporated in 1980, but we held our first meetings in 1973. A few of the local hunters would talk at the boat ramps about changing the system and proposing different seasons. Those early meetings came about because the hunters felt that the Pennsylvania Game Commission(PGC) was not representing the states waterfowl hunters properly. The early years were mostly spent conflicting with the PGC, mainly on season length and bag limits. The SRWA felt the PGC should use hunter input on migratory bird patterns toward setting the season dates. Out biggest hurdle came when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS) passed a regulation that required states that do not allow Sunday hunting to subtract those days off the allowed days, meaning the non-huntable Sundays would still count against out allowed season, known as compensatory days.. Three states within the thirteen state Atlantic Flyway were affected by this ruling. It took almost 10 years to have that decision reversed. The SRWA was on the forefront of letter writing campaigns to sway the decision back in our favor.

2- We have read on the website that in the twenty seven years of existence your organization has not only become larger in membership but also in its effect and recognition. I believe that was not by luck. How did this success come about?

In the early years, it was easy to gain support from the hunting public. There were many topics that the hunters felt needed addressed by the PGC and everyone was willing to sacrifice a day off to spend at the Capitol to speak their minds. People from all over the state that wanted to be heard at a higher level joined the SRWA so they could voice an opinion that would be heard by those that made the regulations.

As regulations changed for the better and hunting seasons grew and bag limits became greater, less and less hunters spoke out against the topics they were dissatisfied with.

We then took a hands on approach toward conservation and it's issues.

As our members became more involved in the world that surrounded them, they were able to make a difference by doing hands-on habitat work like building duck nests or planting aquatic vegetation for waterfowl food and cover.

3- The work that your organization provides and especially when it happens by volunteers and more importantly non-governmental agencies. Please give us some of these activities and the reasons for them.

Our biggest member activity is what we call our "Habitat Day". Our members gather to make Wood Duck boxes and Mallard nests. We generally do this twice a year on a big scale and once a month on an individual basis. We will build 200 Wood Duck boxes year and 50 Mallard nests. All of our members are encouraged and welcomed to take as many nests as they can use. We ask that they keep records of the nesting success and maintain the boxes annually. We have our logo on all of the structures to make it as familiar as any corporate logo. The main reason for using the nesting structures was to build up the population of these ducks within our own local areas. As members saturated areas with boxes and maintained them, the local ducks flourished and we were able to "grow" our own ducks to supplement the migrating population. Countrywide, the Wood Duck box program has been the single most productive activity taken on by the hunting public. The Wood Duck was on the brink of extinction in the early 1900's then rebounded to be the second most abundant duck today, only behind the Mallard.

Our members also participate in "Sportsmen for Youth" programs. These programs are put on by Sportsman's club throughout the state to give youths an opportunity to spend the day trying different outdoor activities. The SRWA does a few different programs with the youths, but they all reaffirm the waterfowling traditions that bond hunters. We do duck call demonstrations to assembling nesting boxes. We teach as much to them about conservation as we do the hunting side of our sport.

We do Boy Scout programs also. Certain badges can be earned by doing a Wood Duck project or habitat enhancement. We have helped three scouts in the past five years to earn the Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts top rank.

We attend various shows to promote the SRWA and sign up new members. We have logo'ed shirts and hats that we sell to generate money to use to promote the organization.

The SRWA started the "Waterfowl Symposium". We invited other waterfowl clubs and organizations to come and speak about the status of the seasons and frameworks. When this was first started, it was just for the public. The PGC started attending to use the information for setting season length. We then started co-hosting it with the PGC so we could all benefit from the proceedings and that trend continues now. The SRWA compiles a "Harvest Report" from information given to us by our members. As the years progress and change is needed, we ask our members to vote on changes that we feel need made. If the majority votes for a certain topic then we propose that change to the PGC. We poll our members on their opinions on season dates also. We are the only state organization that does this and our proposals have passed as written the past 7 years.

We have an annual gathering of members during our Canada Goose season where we get together for a hunt. Host members will take a group of members goose hunting to encourage fellowship amongst the membership. We meet later in the day for a barbeque and share the days experience.

4- Outside of the assistance to the local waterfowl and the …. I understand that you have been providing financial assistance as well as assisting with programs all the way to Canada. Can you please extrapolate about the actions and what drove your organization to such actions? It is noteworthy that you have members that not just from Pennsylvania but also from many other places. How can a club that started with a handful of locals have achieved such high esteem?

One of the reasons the SRWA has become so recognizable within the waterfowl community has been because of our involvement within the Atlantic Flyway Council. The AFC is an international committee comprised of all the states in the flyway, US territories, and Canada. The USFWS and Canadian Wildlife Service also participate in the council. The AFC has a Technical Section, which is comprised of wildlife biologists from the represented states and countries. These biologists are charged with providing the council with scientific proof behind the management decisions that govern season length and bag limits. We have provided a delegate to the semi-annual Technical section meetings and the annual AFC meetings for almost twenty years. In that time, we have seen a need to expand programs or extend programs to gain more knowledge. We offer financial assistance to certain programs as an incentive to further the scientific background needed to properly manage the resource. In particular, the Atlantic Brant Program was established by the SRWT to further the studies of these birds by the AFC. To date we have given $17,000 to that program alone. We have helped pay for Canada Goose banding studies. We gave $5,000 to have two GPS tracking collars put on Tundra Swans to help understand the migrating patterns better, we have provided financial assistance to Canadian graduate students to allow them to finish waterfowl relates studies, and have given money to the Scaup research initiative to study the decline in Scaup populations. In working with a group like the AFC, we have made friends all over the country. Those people support what we do and gladly become members or are willing to donate to the SRWT so that we may continue these different programs.

If a member from another state wishes to do a habitat project, we will provide financial assistance along with technical advice as much as possible. We have a waterfowl biologist on our board of directors and can provide scientific options to any habitat work we do.

5- I suppose that the base for success of the organization is the intense volunteerism of your members. Can you tell us how you achieved such harmony and support?

A common bond is the secret to our success. Our members become members to achieve the same goals. As you become comfortable with each other, the bond grows. When we have a group activity, we try and include as many members as possible and encourage new people to join the activities. When one member goes the extra mile, it drives everyone to do better. We try not to separate the conservation side of the hunters from the hunting side. Keeping everyone going in the same direction is easy when the road traveled is well marked.

6- The title of your organization suggests that you’re a club of hunters. Yet, not all of your members are hunters and support the programs. Can you tell us a bit of the percentage of non-hunters and their cooperation with the hunters within?

Over the years, we have gained support from conservation minded people from all over the state and country. Although the bulk of our members are hunters, we have a great mix of non-hunters in the ranks. The mix is about 80 percent hunters to 20 percent non-hunters. We have mixed functions and fundraisers where both groups support each other.

7- You also have the SWRT which is the financial and support part of the organization. What can you tell us about that part of the organization?

The SRWT was started to give the SRWA an avenue to raise funds that could be tax deductible to the donors. The SRWT operates on an annual budget of approximately $30,000. The SRWT is governed by five Board of Directors. The SRWT pays for all the youth activities, habitat projects, nesting structures, aquatic plants and seeds. The SRWT also supports the AFC delegate that attends the AFC meetings each year. The SRWT has an annual fundraising banquet that generates the majority of the money for the budget. Gun raffles and silent auctions are also another way they raise money.

8- How do people view your organization given that your members spend more time on conservation?

Our organization is not perceived as a hunter organization because of the habitat work we do. The work we do involves thousands of acres of State owned land, parks, schools, and private property. We provide signs for most of the projects and have a visual association with conservation work. We are solicited by other other conservation organizations for advice and funding.

9- What is your personal view on issues that hunters will be facing in the immediate future?

Hunters in the United States are being forced into budget battles within their states wildlife management agencies. Rising license costs associated with lessening services are dividing hunters and the agencies charged with managing them. Hunters will need to step up and help finance some of the vital programs that we will need to continue our tradition of waterfowl hunting.

10- Lastly, we want to thank you once more and ask what your personal wish is for the future of hunting world wide?

Without having any experience in worldwide hunting issues, I would think most of us are facing the same basic hurdles. The two main conflicts I see are access to huntable lands and the non-hunting publics perception of our sport.

The two conflicts cross paths when a non-hunter controls once accessible lands. It is the responsibility of the hunter to convince the landowner that they are as respectful of the land as the owner would be. In the eyes of the non hunting public, we the hunters, have each other to act as our spokesman. My one wish would be that all hunters represent my respect to the resource that provides us with such long lasting enjoyment so that the next generation will want to continue the tradition.