The Outdoors Journey

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The White Otter Inn was in my rear view mirror and the rising sun was on my windshield.  I was up unreasonably early to drive home from a late-November OFAH membership meeting in northwestern Ontario. Slowly,  the break of dawn unveiled the full view of an empty Trans-Canada Highway… empty except for the OFAH company Jeep I was driving and a half-ton truck up ahead.  That truck was also flying my organization’s emblem.

Back bumper or top windshield corner, I can spot an OFAH membership decal a mile away. Our bright blue membership sticker is the highly recognizable “I’m proud to fish and hunt” statement affixed to boats, ATV’s, trucks and cars all throughout Ontario, especially in the north.

With a full travel mug of coffee and an extra hour on my side, I had no inclination to pass my fellow OFAH members.  After all, a weekend full of fish hatchery tours, club meetings and conservation topics couldn’t replace this anonymous OFAH membership success story being told, from the shoulders up, with backs against a truck cab window.

With every mile I paid closer attention to the OFAH members sitting side-by-side in the cab of that truck. Their blaze orange hats and jackets made it easy to tell how they were spending the morning.  A father and his son, I predicted. Going deer hunting, I assumed.

I recognized their body language from my own childhood hunting trips, sitting beside my Dad on the bench seat of his old two-toned-brown GMC Sierra. The constant bobbing of two hunting hats to the beat of their discussion made me wish I could hear it. The steady nodding of the driver’s head told me that he enjoyed listening and learning from his son. The enthusiastic expressions from the young passenger told me that today’s hunt was already successful – successful if only from the perspective of quality time between two lifelong hunting buddies.

Simple moments like these that remind us why a passion for hunting comes from the heart. Hunting is about the fulfillment of the journey not the squeeze of the trigger. Hunting builds character and a deeply rooted respect for nature.  Hunting connects us to the family and friends who cared enough to pass down the hunting heritage. Hunting is our identity. It is a core value for millions of Canadians.

National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day

20170720_120625The need to express the importance of our outdoor heritage has always been the OFAH motivation to push for federal and provincial recognition of those who fish, hunt and trap and serve fish and wildlife conservation.

In Canada, on the third Saturday of September, our great traditions are saluted with an official “Day.”  That Day is the new National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day, presented by the Government of Canada.

Even when the occasion has come and gone, our pride in Canada’s outdoor heritage, and the great conservation story of anglers, hunters and trappers, deserves to be told every day.

National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day gives the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and its conservation allies another opportunity to put long overdue public attention on how our members and supporters contribute to our natural resources.

Conservation leadership

Yes, we love to fish and hunt but anglers, hunters and trappers have done more than that.

When wetlands were considered wastelands, it was duck hunters who were the first to demand the protection of wetlands and the international Migratory Birds Treaty.

When some people didn’t care about cold water streams and its value to fish and wildlife, it was trout fisherman who volunteered to plant trees, prevent erosion, built spawning beds and fish ladders.

When an entire industry was built on the decimation of wildlife for commerce, it was hunters who demanded seasons and limits and the prohibition on selling wild meat.

When catch and release wasn’t even a concept, it was fishing club members who built hatcheries and stocked lakes with fish and locally promoted conservation and responsible angling.

When our delicate waterways and forest ecosystems faced the threat of invasive species, it was the OFAH that built partnerships, programs and awareness to stop the spread.

Improving local streams and wetlands, stocking lakes, planting trees, building nesting boxes, picking up litter from rivers and forests, volunteering for habitat restoration programs, promoting hunter education and teaching kids about responsible fishing and conservation are all examples of how the outdoors community makes a difference.

Right now, somewhere in down-to-earth-rural-Canada, there’s a valuable conversation happening between two life-long hunting buddies. Perhaps they are sitting side-by-side on the bench seat of truck as they’re heading into deer camp. Perhaps they’re reminiscing about past hunts, legendary bucks and all the special family memories that the great outdoors provides. Respect for nature and quality time with family and friends is never taken for granted, and National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day helps express our passion for the outdoors journey.

Crossbowhunter

 

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Once Upon A Time

This speech was presented at the 2015 OFAH Fish & Wildlife Conference.

This speech was presented at the 2015 OFAH Fish & Wildlife Conference.

Once upon a time are the four little words that start a special story.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters certainly has a special story. But today, it doesn’t need to start with once upon a time. After all, we are an organization for the future, not the past.

Let us not think about once upon a time as in yesterday. Think about once upon a time as in right now… because this business development and corporate messaging report takes us into the conceivable future… at an OFAH Conference… far, far away.

The year is 2038, and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is celebrating its 110th Anniversary.  A lot has changed since the 2015 OFAH Annual General Meeting. But still, 23-years-later, isn’t it remarkable that retired Mississauga Mayor, Hazel McCallum was here this morning to bring greetings to the OFAH. {Joke}

If you think that’s ridiculous, what if I also told you that, nearly quarter of century later, the Leafs actually made it to the playoffs?

You’re laughing because you’re optimistic; and perhaps even a little bit crazy.

What isn’t crazy, however, is your 2015 prediction about the crazy technological world that we live in.

As you envisioned, Generation X lit the match on the fuse of digital technology that brought skyrocketing advancements in media and communications, transportation and global commerce.

In 2015, you were also right in your observation about the relentless progress of woman and man.  Urban sprawl sprung to urban speed. The cityscape devoured more landscape when most were too busy texting and tweeting.  Some families sold the farm… others sold the family farm values.

Yes, welcome to 2038; yet another era when environmental priorities and social change still can’t come fast enough.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” And when it comes to Ontario’s fish and wildlife and outdoor opportunities, creating the future is something that OFAH members have always done best.

Back when Model T-Fords rattled down the dirt roads of Toronto, it was our founding members who predicted that, without a fishing season, Ontario would see the demise of its bass populations.  So, in 1928, our Federation was born following a grassroots victory in the creation of conservation laws.

In the 1950’s, OFAH members predicted that our great hunting legacy would be crippled by the bad reputation caused from hunting accidents. So, we took charge of our destiny by spearheading one of North America’s finest hunter education programs.

Throughout much of the 1980’s and 1990’s, OFAH members predicted that Ontario could, once again, be home to wild turkey and elk. Forward-thinking prevailed.P1030614

“Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.” It’s a sentiment once shared by Theodore Roosevelt… and, to this day, it accurately explains why so many anglers and hunters need to belong to the OFAH.

Membership is the lifeblood of the OFAH. In year 2038, the OFAH can be very proud of its strength in OFAH membership and support. However, the journey to membership prosperity is never a smooth road. It is a reality that the OFAH has experienced years with spikes and dips in membership.

During the 2015 OFAH AGM, it was reported that OFAH strength was holding solid at 84,432 members. Remarkable retention deserves a pat on the back, but trickling growth causes a scratch to the head.

In 2015, OFAH members and staff were asking important questions.

Why didn’t critical OFAH success leverage critical OFAH membership growth — particularly during a time in OFAH history when our organization landed its longest line-up of wins: Sunday gun hunting, record highs in hunter education, the demise of the long gun registry and a returned spring bear hunt… to name only a few.

Sadly, wins that were absolutely unimaginable in the past are apathetically taken for granted in the future.

Every day the OFAH is going to work for the members we have; meanwhile, our successes benefit the members we don’t. It’s a classic case where the majority count on the minority to make one hundred percent of the progress.

When gun owners and hunters’ backs are against the wall, OFAH membership works for the entire outdoors community. But when the walls come down, we can’t afford to wait for another crisis to get the outdoors community back.

It’s a classic case where the majority count on the minority to make one hundred percent of the progress.

It’s a classic case where the majority count on the minority to make one hundred percent of the progress.

This winter, another crisis, another hunter. He said:

“My town council is trying to ban hunting, and I really need the OFAH’s help.”

We said:

“The OFAH will be there!

Oh, and by the way, your OFAH membership is expired.

We need your help, too.”

The future of OFAH membership is shaped by many symptoms including economics and demographics. Apathy, however, is our greatest threat.

In the words of Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”

In year 2038, the good old days of hunting and fishing are still being invented by a next generation of OFAH members – members who followed in the footsteps of those who fought for the outdoor opportunities they enjoy today. They chose the front line over the free ride. They trumped apathy with passion and they joined the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters for all the right reasons. And the hat and knife were just a bonus.

Indeed, the future of hunting and fishing are alive and well today because the OFAH membership never stopped making a difference. Hunting and fishing are in our DNA, and no matter how much society will change, the majority will always count OFAH’s united approach to make gains for individual pursuits.IMG_20140930_075556_edit

Once upon a time, a father and son stopped suddenly on a trail. A partridge flushed and the .410 went off. Big smiles; pats on the back; and a quick photo to mark the spot on the trail of the boy’s first bird.

The father said, “Promise that you will always protect hunting.”

The boy said, “I promise, Dad.”

The trail to OFAH membership success is told with thousands of these important stories. After all, the OFAH is about people and passion. We are an organization for the future not the past.  Once upon a time is written today.

Welcome to the future.