Tag Archives: education

Breaking barriers: Hunting in the black community

Today we discuss diversity in hunting with Eric Morris, an avid hunter, fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. His passion inspired him to found the Black Wolf Hunting Club in 2011, with the mission to promote the sport of hunting in the African American community, and to increase representation of African Americans in the outdoors. Eric’s goal is to close the gap between communities and access through education, written media projects, and hands-on hunting, shooting, and other outdoor experiences. In addition to founding the Black Wolf Hunting Club, Eric has travelled the country to speak about diversity in hunting, met with the National Shooting Sports Foundation to discuss the topic, taken entire families on guided hunts, served as a hunting mentor, and is currently writing a book on the subject.

Q: Did you grow up in an urban or rural setting? Was hunting a popular sport in your community?
A: I grew up in a town of 17,000 people, and like many places in Alabama, hunting was naturally a part of my community.

Q: Did you grow up hunting or fishing? If so, who did you hunt with?
A: Growing up, I participated in fishing more than hunting. When I did hunt, it was small game in my backyard and in the surrounding neighborhood. Several of my uncles and cousins hunted, and though my Daddy was not a hunter, he did purchase a .22 rifle and took me squirrel hunting when I was 12 years old.

I became fascinated by stories of Native Americans being in nature and matching their skills against wildlife. I loved the idea of being able to hunt and survive off the land.

Q: What initially inspired you to pursue the sport of hunting?
A: I believe that some hunters, myself included, are born with an interest in the outdoors, which leads to an interest in hunting. While in elementary school, I became fascinated by stories of Native Americans being in nature and matching their skills against wildlife. I loved the idea of being able to hunt and survive off the land. I learned my great-grandmother was part Creek Indian, and I was even further intrigued.

Q: Where did you primarily hunt? Did you have access to public lands where you grew up?
A: Though I had access to public lands, Daddy grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s, where racism and stereotypes were prevalent, so as an African American, he was somewhat uncomfortable hunting on public lands. I primarily hunted in my backyard, wooded areas in my neighborhood, and on my uncle’s 40 acres of land since the age of 12 until I graduated college.

Q: Where do you hunt now that you live in Atlanta? How is your access to local hunting sites?
A: Now that I live just outside of Atlanta, I hunt all over the United States. To date, I have hunted in 10 different states, including Alaska. Locally, there are roughly 15 public hunting areas consisting of more than 140,000 acres within a two hour drive from Atlanta. Despite the availability of local areas to hunt, if a person never takes time to learn of these hunting areas, they can say “I don’t know where to go” as the reason why they do not hunt.

Life has shown me that the love and passion for hunting trumps all social and racial differences.

Q: Based on your personal experience, why do you think the sport of hunting is not more diverse?
A: From my personal experiences, there are four reasons why hunting is not a diverse activity. The first reason is that America has a long history of excluding Blacks and other minorities from the hunting scene, and even today the perceived message in those communities is that hunting is an activity that only White people do. While this may not be the intended message, many minorities feel that hunting is a White-only sport.

The second reason hunting is not more diverse is because many minorities do not feel welcomed in some hunting groups, since the faces and culture of these groups do not reflect them. Additionally, most hunting advertisements do not show diversity.

The third reason, and perhaps the most significant, is “mentality.” What a person thinks about hunting, whether or not they grew up with hunters, their self-image, where they see themselves in the food chain, and internal fears all play a part in an individual’s mentality. Despite the adversity surrounding hunting, life has shown me that the love and passion for hunting trumps all social and racial differences. When two hunters meet and share their experiences, it can seem as if they are new best friends.

Lastly, from my involvement in several conservation groups, I have noticed that White hunters seem to have a greater sense of responsibility than Black hunters for leaving an outdoor legacy, protecting the environment, and continuing the family tradition of hunting for their children and future generations. I have yet to see this level of involvement from the minority hunting community as minority participation in conservation groups is almost non-existent. Social and racial issues going on within our society also contribute to the lack of hunting diversity.

Q: In your opinion, what do you think are the main obstacles for people living in urban communities to engage in hunting?
A: I believe that people who live in urban areas, where there is the largest concentration of minorities, have a different outlook and mentality about hunting, and see hunting as a rural or backwoods activity. Urban and rural communities also dress differently, think differently, have different interests, and have a different view of guns. Another significant obstacle is introduction to the sport of hunting. For many, their families do not hunt, and no one has ever introduced them to hunting. Those who are interested in hunting may be suspicious or untrusting of those who want to introduce them to the sport.

The time has come to stop just talking about diversity, and shift into taking action on increasing diversity in hunting.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about hunting?
A: Many companies and organizations within the hunting industry realize the financial gain from tapping into the minority market. In 2016 alone, hunting expenditures amounted to $25.6 billion, and $36.3 billion in 2011.  However, the reasons and motivations for wanting to diversify hunting should be genuine and sincere, and come from a place of passion for diversity rather than money. The task of increasing diversity in the sport of hunting is not an easy one, nor can it be solved by a large sum of money; it is going to take a concentrated effort, led by experienced Black or Hispanic hunters, to get other minorities involved in hunting. The time has come to stop just talking about diversity, and shift into taking action on increasing diversity in hunting.

Hunting is a fun activity that offers a sense of freedom and self-reliance that cannot be matched. It is sad that hunting is not as important in American culture today compared to 100 years ago. This may be because the American landscape has changed and so have societal views on hunting. In my opinion, Americans have become increasingly more reliant on convenience and technology rather than self-sufficiency and self-sustenance.

Q: In your opinion, how can public land agencies provide increased opportunities for hunters, regardless of where they live?
A: With well over 100 million acres of public hunting land available to the public, finding a place to hunt is not an issue. I think that public land management agencies should first identify their target audience, then sincerely and deliberately gear their efforts towards that audience.  In regards to outdoor diversity, public land agencies should invest time and resources into targeting minority markets by having outdoor days on public lands, having introduction to hunting days, offering a free hunting day, or offering select permits to hunt on public lands that would otherwise be off limits. In addition, having strong representatives from the minority community to spearhead the effort is a great way to showcase opportunities on public lands.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we continue this conversation with Eric!

A non-hunter’s guide to hunting

You may be wondering how regulated hunting contributes to conservation, the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and if it’s a sustainable practice.

Let’s start with the mission of the Service: working with others to conserve, enhance, and protect fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. A key component enabling the Service to carry out their mission is conserving and enhancing habitat, managed under the National Wildlife Refuge System. The purchase of federal duck stamps, required by all waterfowl hunters, provides the funding needed to conserve new lands, enhancing opportunities for outdoor activities where people can connect with nature.

Outdoor opportunities, including regulated hunting, are among the benefits people enjoy through the work of federal and state partnerships. For many, hunting is a family activity that transcends generations. Many feel hunting not only teaches the value and importance of wildlife conservation, but teaches imperative life lessons such as patience, respect, solitude, and self-awareness. Scott Kahan, Regional Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, for example, feels hunting is an important way to reconnect with nature and spend quality time with his two sons. He writes, “I will cherish the opportunity to get out in the woods to hunt with my sons and reconnect with those things that are truly important to me.”

Scott Kahan and his son at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota.

So how do hunters contribute to the Service’s mission to conserve, enhance, and protect wildlife? First, biologists study and monitor the populations of wildlife species that are hunted to ensure populations are sustainable and healthy, while law enforcement officers ensure that regulations are being followed by hunters. In some areas, populations of game species can become overabundant, limiting the amount of suitable habitat available for other wildlife. In these situations, hunting contributes to the conservation, enhancement, and longevity of habitat for all wildlife through the regulated take of an overabundant species.

A meat processor participating in the Hunters Sharing the Harvest Program.

In addition to conservation benefits, hunting is a sustainable way to provide food for your family. Alternatively, if you enjoy hunting and have game meat to share, you can supply nutritious food for over 200 people by donating a single deer! Programs such as “Hunters Helping the Hungry” in New Jersey and “Hunters Sharing the Harvest” in Pennsylvania, allow hunters to donate their harvest to help feed those in need. Even if you are unsuccessful in harvesting a deer, you still had the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, spend time with family and friends, and participate in a wildlife-dependent activity!

Pennsylvania’s pheasant propagation program provides enhanced hunting opportunities for junior hunters. Photo by Hal Korber.

Are you interested in learning how to hunt? To obtain a hunting license, a prospective hunter must participate in and pass a hunter’s education course. These courses are funded by the Service through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program and are carried out by state agencies, and are designed to teach students to be safe, responsible, and conservation-minded hunters. Many programs are specifically designed for youth hunters, such as the Pennsylvania Junior Pheasant Hunt Program, where young hunters are guided by an experienced mentor throughout the hunt.

For experienced hunters who wish to expand their hunting knowledge, many states offer advanced hunting courses. For example, Vermont offers advanced hunting courses focusing on hunting Vermont black bears, white-tailed deer tracking and processing, and small game hunting with dogs.

Learn more about hunting on public lands here.

Click here to learn more about hunting on national wildlife refuges.

For links to state fish and wildlife agencies, click here.

Award Winning Work with Volunteers

Wildlife Biology and engaging the community haven’t always gone hand in hand in the past, but this is changing.

Linda Ziemba, lead biologist at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, is linking the two by promoting stewardship. She is saving critters while also building up the scientific interest of the community, therefore, bridging the gap between people and their outdoor environments. For 11 years now, Linda has been working with volunteers, partners, and students to improve the quality of natural ecosystems and educate about the importance of a healthy environment.

MARSHstiltgrassHWS3_RHunt_082714.jpg

Students from Hobart and William Smith Colleges learn about the impacts of invasive plants on native ecosystems, while pulling bags of Japanese stiltgrass. Students worked hand in hand with volunteers, Montezuma NWR biologist Linda Ziemba, and other refuge staff. What a team! Credit: Ray Hunt

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service would not be able to do all the great conservation work without volunteers. According to the article Budget and Staffing Trends in the Northeast Region,  for every hour that a volunteer provides to a refuge, it is valued at $22.50 to the refuge system. Volunteers at the Montezuma NWR have had the opportunity to become more involved in citizen science and  a part of the many programs Montezuma NWR has to offer. Volunteers are helping out at Montezuma NWR more than ever before, partly thanks to Linda’s welcoming presence, which has helped to open up insightful discussions between the biologist and curious participants.

Linda was a key player in the formation of MARSH (Montezuma Alliance for the Restoration of Species and Habitats) – a program, from April to October, entirely devoted to volunteers helping the wildlife habitat of Montezuma’s wetlands. With a list of different involvement opportunities (photographer, social media strategist,  winter raptor surveyor), there is certainly a role for everyone to get in on. No experience necessary!

LindaEthanMALL1_0915.JPG

Biologist and event goer, Ethan Marsh, band together to release a male mallard at a duck banding event. Credit: David Marsh

Through this program, which got its start in 2009,  Linda discusses with folks why it’s important that this work is being done.  Recently, college students and recent graduates with tech-savvy skills and folks with a strong background in plant ID were paired together to build off one another’s skill sets using an app for mapping invasive species. People in MARSH are able to share their own individual focuses of expertise during the work plans, and also gain knowledge from different backgrounds, scientific or not. Friends groups have chimed in on this collaborative effort and usually provide lunch for volunteers after. Linda emphasizes it really is a group effort, but it is also her strong ability to bring people together that serves as a forefront.

Montezuma NWR ,with the help of Linda organizing a number of people, have together banded 50% of New York State’s (NYS) black ducks, so many that over winter there is high return of the ones already banded. Before hunting season, 25% of NYS’s Mallard ducks, the refuge’s target species, are banded regularly.  On behalf of the people’s diligent work on the refuge, the state of New York is able to meet their quota. Wow!!

montezuma volunteers and Linda Ziemba

In January of 2017, there was a fun Friday activity for volunteers. This eager group went on a observation walk to locate the nation’s familiar and emblematic bird: the  Bald Eagle. A whopping 44 eagles and 5 nests were spotted by the participants!

Linda has continued to foster a relationship with local colleges SUNY ESF college at Syracuse, Finger Lakes Community College, Chiropractic College, as well as Suny Brockport, where students make the trek from an hour away. She has helped to get students majoring in science-related majors involved in hands on field work.  This is a great way for students to gain relevant experience, and helps to guide them into work that they may want to get into in the future, but if not, as Linda says it’s a platform to the idea of “giving back to the community and protecting the land.”

SeedCollectingHWSstudents1_SenecaMeadows_LColunga_0816 (2).JPG

Freshman college students learn the ropes about habitat restoration and collaborate together to help Montezuma NWR volunteer, Gretchen Schauss, and biologist, Linda Ziemba, collect native plant seeds.  Photo Credit: L. Colunga

Linda finds her job especially rewarding when she is able to change the mind of a former critic. Through negotiation and interpersonal dialogue, Linda and her team help to make others aware of the significance of their work to wildlife.  It  can take personal connections and the building blocks of a partnership for someone to feel as passionate about an issue too. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is here for the wildlife, but they are also here for the people. Because of her outstanding efforts in the field and with volunteers, the Service has announced Linda Ziemba as the 2016 “Biologist of the Year.”

FentonLindaMapFrogbit_MainPool_PBonn_0814.jpg

In Linda’s spare time, she enjoys hiking the Finger Lakes Trail of New York with her family. Photo Credit: Phil Bonn

Congrats Linda, and a pat on the back to all the hard working volunteers, partners, and biologists out there protecting the wildlife. Cheers to teaching future generations the importance of a sustainable relationship between people and the Earth!