It’s a bold name for an education program - Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow. But “CLfT,” as the program is usually called, is a bold approach to supplementing the education of certain university students and agency personnel committed to degree programs and careers in natural resource conservation.
In 2000, a full-day special session at the 66th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, in Washington, DC, was entitled “The Changing Role of Hunting in North American Conservation.” Its organizers, presenter, and participants took a hard look at the contributions of hunting to management of wildlife and undeveloped landscape. The special session mainly reaffirmed that hunting has defined and fortified the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. It also revealed issues that place hunting and the Model in jeopardy. One of those issues, voiced by state wildlife agency administrators, was that many prospective agency hires, however bright and well schooled, have no hunting background.
“Our employees have to be able to relate to and communicate effectively with one of our vital publics, the hunting community,” said one administrator. “If we take on college graduates who don’t know about hunting or angling, their learning curve is very steep and, frankly, there isn’t the time or public patience to address the shortcoming.”
Little happened until Spring 2004, when the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation (McGraw Foundation) and Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) agreed to investigate the matter and, if there really was a problem, to invest in attempting to rectify it.
A publication from The Wildlife Society in the mid-1990s speculated that about 50 percent of students graduating with wildlife degrees were not hunters. In light of this report, and pursuant of a more complete understanding, WMI undertook a survey of university wildlife departments to determine what the percentage was. Nearly half of the departments responded, but few provided specific numbers, only estimates. Overall, it appeared that the approximate 50-percent estimation of a decade before was likely accurate in 2004. This clearly represented a momentous decline from the decades prior, when it was rare (1940-1970) and then uncommon (1970-1980) to find natural resource graduates who weren’t hunters.
WMI extended the survey effort to determine if federal land management agencies, state fish and wildlife agencies, and Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit officials actually were concerned about this apparent trend. Most were at least “somewhat concerned" and acknowledged that the trend of nonhunting staff is continuing.
The general agency sentiment was characterized by a state agency director: “It’s a problem when our staff elevate to policy-making positions and begin regulating hunting and they’ve never been a participant themselves.” This basic sentiment further supported the need to foster within the profession a sense of hunting awareness and understanding of the relationship between hunting and conservation.
Acknowledging a potential worsening situation for the North American Conservation Model, the McGraw Foundation agreed to fund a two-year pilot education program for nonhunting students in resource management disciplines if WMI would develop and administer the program. WMI took the challenge and opportunity and through this joint effort emerged the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow program.
CLfT was designed as a series of classroom presentations and interactive discussions (“roundtables”) on the roles, values, and issues of hunting, and a series of field exercises that would expose the students to firearms and hunting skills.
In September 2004, a detailed program curriculum prospectus was reviewed by a select number of university educators and professional conservationists, who met at the McGraw Foundation in Dundee, Illinois. The participants provided endorsement, curriculum commentary and suggestions of persons to be invited as instructors.
In the ensuing months, WMI prepared the curriculum and invited instructors to a three-day training session at the McGraw Foundation in July 2005. Eleven persons participated in that first training session. Two things were readily evident. First, although there was not a great deal of familiarity among the attendees at the outset, their common interest in hunting and shared enthusiasm for education and conservation proved a quick, collegial bond. Second, the proposed curriculum required additional refinement.
The first pilot-year workshops were held in October 2005, at the McGraw Foundation. A total of 39 students attended, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Penn State University and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Based on those workshops, the program was further refined. Certain roundtables and field exercises were eliminated, added or their allotted times adjusted. A major change was reducing the student number to 16, for safety purposes, four groups of four students for team activity during portions of the workshop, and optimal instructor to student ratio for firearms handling and explanation of hunting skills.
Based on pre- and post-workshop surveys of the participating students, and from the evident interest and enthusiasm exhibited by the students, plus their comments during and after each workshop, the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation agreed to support the growth of the program and its expansion to other universities and workshop facilities.
The CLfT Model
The initial model for CLfT was a derivative of the successful Student Hunter Education Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CLfT also incorporated topics, activities and teaching methods from several other hunting/hunter university courses and extracurricular activities, the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, and instructional materials from the International Hunter Education Association and elsewhere.
CLfT differs in a number of ways from other hunting programs and courses. First and foremost is that CLfT is a conservation program, not a hunter education or safety course or a hunter-recruitment effort, as previously noted. Second is its target audience. CLfT limits its offering to only those exceptional students and professionals who have been identified as current and future leaders within the natural resources profession.
The CLfT workshops are highly structured. The program is a rigorous and highly interactive 4 days for the 16 Participants and 11-14 certified instructors. A great deal of subject matter is covered, so the times for all its parts are rigorously managed.
The program is open to variations of the current model. Should there be other opportunities to accomplish the same goals, objectives and base curriculum, but using a different format and schedule, they will be encouraged. ClfT is currently exploring other options with multiple Universities and State and Federal Agencies.