The following is a piece by my dear friend Sean Clarkson. Recently, I started a Facebook group called “Talkin’ Conservation”. The following is a post that I hope to immortalize through this website as well as the FB group. Feel free to look us up. – Tyler
What are you?
When someone asks that question in the context of conservation and our pursuit heritage, how do you answer that question? Among all the challenges we, as conservationists and sportsmen/women, face how you answer that question is perhaps the greatest of them all.
One of the most ancient paradigms in warfare and in social politics is captured by the Roman maxim “Dīvide et Imperā”; “Divide and Conquer”. Sun Tzu, Phillip of Macedon, Caesar, Napoleon; one can trace throughout history the effectiveness of this maxim in defeating and ruling their opponents. The opposition is identified, divisions identified or created within them, exploited, and victory then is assured. We see examples of it around us today in geopolitics, in social politics, and in sports. It is undeniably effective. And we, conservationists and especially “sportsmen/women”, have divided ourselves. The single act that those who oppose conservation and our heritage need most to accomplish has been done for them by us, willingly and unwittingly. We are no longer “conservationists”, or “sportsmen/women”, and not even merely “hunters” or “anglers”. We are “deer hunters”, “sheep hunters”, “elk hunters”, “turkey hunters”, “duck hunters”, “bear hunters”, “bowhunters” (made even worse by the “traditional bowhunter” vs “compound bowhunter”, etc., divide). We are “bass anglers”, “trout anglers”, “flyfishers”, “saltwater anglers”. We are “public land/water” hunters and anglers. We are “mountain hunters”, and “swamp hunters”; “dog hunters”, “still hunters”, “tree stand hunters”, “spot-and-stalk hunters”; “solo hunters” and “team hunters”; “meat hunters” and “trophy hunters”. The same goes for anglers. We divide ourselves on every tool, and habitat, and species, and facet or factor we can find. We’ve broken ourselves out into these camps, and we’re extremely proud of our separateness to the point of aggressiveness to and defensiveness against all other camps. This goes well beyond the championing of our totem species with magazines and banquets, apparel and bumper stickers; it goes into fighting among ourselves for special seasons, regulations, legislation, management and allocation of resources, and anything else we can possibly pull into “our camp” to the detriment of the “others”. If you don’t believe me, please attend the next meeting of your state’s legislative committees overseeing game management, or simply pick up any number of glossy magazines in your local book dealer. Or, just peruse social media. You’ll quickly find that we, as what used to be known as conservationists and sportsmen/women, are now locked in “battle” not against any groups or organizations that seek to diminish conservation or our heritage but among ourselves.
Teddy Roosevelt knew that we, as sportsmen and women, inherited and hold in trust for those still in the womb of time our most ancient human legacy of pursuit and of the demand of conservation. And yet, today, we are closer than we have ever been to losing it all. Yes, we still do amazing work for game and non-game species. Yes, we still collectively put hundreds of millions of dollars into conservation and on-the-ground, in-the-water every year. Yes, we still have our abilities to do these things. For now. Every year there are less and less of us. Every year, we lose a little bit more of our heritage and of management of habitat and resources in places like California, New Jersey, British Columbia, and across the globe. And, I can assure you that this happens wherever you are as well. Each of those loses, both in numbers and on specific issues, brings us one step closer to losing it all. Rome was not built in a day, nor did it fall in a day, but “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Luke 11:24-25). Instead of standing against each of these loses, together, we turn inwardly to our own camp and write it off as the problem of one of those “other” camps. Instead of looking at the decreases across our combined ranks, we worry only about whether we have what we consider “enough” within our own camp. When trapping is attacked, where are the turkey hunters? When the use of hounds is attacked, where are the sheep hunters? When the numbers of license sales fall 2 MILLION over the course of a half dozen years, are we all collectively working to figure out why and reverse the trend, or are we looking within our own camp and talking about how many of “us” there are? Did not Martin Niemöller warn us sufficiently about this?
Yes, we must police our own ranks. Yes, we must figure out how to better present ourselves and our heritage. Yes, we must once again take control of the conversation about the management of our resources, wresting this away from the equally misguided preservationists who seek to lock everything away and the destructionists who seek to extract maximum short-term gain at the expense of posterity. Yes, we must do all manner of things to improve what we do and how we do it, for the heritage we hold in trust and for the conservation of the species that we love beyond our limited ability to express. Yes, these things are true, and so many more.
Yet, we are going to lose the chance to do any of these things because we have divided ourselves so effectively that we no longer even see other sportsmen/women as our own. Instead of our prideful independence as “____ hunters” and “_____ anglers”, we need to recognize our dependence on all those “other” groups and realize that the only divisions between us are created by us for the benefit of none of us. We’re all conservationists and sportsmen/women, and that is who and what we should be first and last, for our heritage of pursuit and for our legacy of conservation. Can we once again simply be a “hunter”, an “angler”; a “conservationist”, a “sportsman/woman” instead of some needless faction within? I say that we can, and in the words of Benjamin Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
To the question of “what am I?”, I answer “I am a hunter; I am an angler; I am a conservationist; I am a sportsman.” What say you? – Sean Clarkson
Sean Clarkson is a devoted father of two daughters, and husband to an incredible woman. A native Virginian with roots several centuries deep in that red clay, Sean is an avid outdoorsman pursuing whatever is in season by whatever means he can. A career conservationist with more degrees than necessary, he would most want to share a campfire with Aldo Leopold, Fred Bear, Teddy Roosevelt, John Colter, Harry Selby, Derzu Uzala, and whomever was first across the Bering Sea land bridge.