Fishermen and hunters may just be saviors of the world
By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com
When I started outdoor writing for newspapers 40 years ago, nearly every daily and weekly paper in the country had an outdoor writer on staff who covered the local fishing and hunting scene. For smaller papers, the outdoor writer might also cover high school baseball or motor racing or sports at a local university. But the papers had someone who was devoted to outdoors. We were mainstream. There were hundreds of us, and most of us were educated as reporters and columnists who saw our job as informing and representing our community of “sportsmen.”
Sportsman. That’s a word you don’t see used much today. In newspapers (and now all media), that word came to take on a negative tone because most newspaper people didn’t understand who or what a “sportsman” was. We killed stuff and ate it, and the whole idea of “sportsman” was counterintuitive to them, and they didn’t get it. They covered real sports, forgetting they were really covering children’s games, trivial games. How could we be “sportsmen” when we killed our “opponent”? They didn’t get hunting and fishing. They didn’t get why we cared about clean water and pristine lands. They didn’t understand that we started the environmental movement 100 years before the first Earth Day.
As time passed, most of the other reporters, whether in sports or other departments of the newspaper, didn’t understand why the paper wasted space on outdoors -- even when we covered major news stories about the environment, mismanagement of resources, or threats to basic freedoms (most frequently the Second Amendment). Those reporters and younger editors were urbanites, and outdoor writers were becoming anomalies. We got out of the concrete and away from gamesmanship. We covered a different era -- a completely different value set -- where “game” meant something entirely different, and the people we wrote about still kept at least one foot in that time/belief period.
I did a story about fur trappers supplementing their regular income with bobcat, fox, and coyote hides back in the 1970s, and I remember the newspaper only got one or two letters howling about the piece. Even then, there were only a couple of hundred guys statewide who trapped furbearers to make a few bucks. It was fading away. But most people accepted it. Of course, since then fur trapping has been effectively banned in California because we’ve outlawed the use of leg-hold traps in favor of live, box traps that most wildlife won’t enter. But that was also when you could still buy crawdads, waterdogs (salamanders) and mudsuckers for bait. (By the way, a mudsucker is bottom-dwelling, lethargic minnow whose name would probably be changed for politically correct reasons today.) That was even back before global warming. We’re so much more enlightened now.
The same urbanites who didn’t understand anything on an outdoor page in the newspaper somehow co-opted the environmental movement and everything now spouted about nature and wildlife has a rose-colored glass filter that somehow excludes humans as the beast at the top of the food chain. Instead of being a part of the process, they want us apart from the process. Excuse me -- we are here, and we have dominion over the whole shebang. Oh wait, I can’t use that Biblical word. But even the enviro-whacks should understand that humans have “evolved” to the top of the food chain by being both the top predator and the most effective herbivore. No other species lives in the diversity of habitats where we don’t just survive, but thrive. Yet, they want to remove us from the equation.
I sometimes think that stupidity might have been my fault, the fault of all of us who once had a strong voice in newspapers as outdoor writers, for not doing a better job educating our colleagues and readership about our roles in nature and management. But that ship has not just sailed, but sunk.
Outdoor writers and sportsmen (and the very word “conservation”) have been relegated to the dustbin. We are now dragons roaming at the edges of the cities, needing to be slain by enlightened princes of the animal rights movement. We are a minority no one cares about. Discriminating pours on us from all sides, including our government. There are people working to ban hunting and fishing; to silence not just our activities but also our voices. You are reading this because only old people still publish and read newspapers and remember hunting and fishing is normal. But the world doesn’t belong to us any longer. (If you’re a young gun owner, hunter, or fisherman and reading this on the Internet, I have two things to say: 1) Watch your back. You have acquaintances who would have you committed tomorrow once THAT law gets passed. They are afraid of you and your guns and your fishing rods, and they believe you need to be contained. 2) How on earth did you find this story? Even the newspapers that still run my weekly fishing reports don’t run my column or news stories. I am distantly removed from their mainstream, and even those that do run this column, don’t run it on their websites.)
Because most of the current surviving generation are urban and have been protected from the outdoors (it is so unsanitary), the traditional outdoor sports of hunting and fishing and sound conservation writing have been pretty much excluded from mainstream radio and television coverage. When the non-outdoor community stumbles onto one of the shows on “our” outdoor channels, the program only reinforces their view that today’s “sportsmen” are living in a different, slightly less-human, lower IQ world than theirs.
So today, only a handful of newspaper outdoor writers remain, and there really hasn’t been a corresponding replacement in any of the new media. Oh, there are bloggers out there, and some of them are pretty darn good writers. But they are hobbyists, by and large. There’s no one paying them to take the two or three days, or the two or three weeks, it might take to research a story on how the Department of Fish and Wildlife is wasting millions of dollars on things that don’t benefit either wildlife or the hunters and fishermen who have funded their budget.
But that is true about all reporting today. No one cares. If it requires more thinking than a sound bite, no one bothers. The news cycle moves on. We are titillated with a sports celebrity scandal, forgetting that it’s a game, and the business that runs the game will move on with a new celebrity. Worse, there are people who care what a star in a television show or movie thinks. Really? This is a person who pretends to be someone they aren’t, and you value their opinion? We tweet about that, but we don’t care that we’re lied to by our President repeatedly, our other politicians daily. Amoral behavior is the norm, and we shrug. Corporations take government subsidies as readily as someone who can still work takes disability. It’s all a scam and a game, and those of us who still think it should be otherwise are just mythical dragons blowing flame and smoke.
It didn’t used to be that way. I remember when writing about illegal, immoral, or improper activities would change things. I remember when your phone call or letter to a political representative had an impact. Today, it all blows over in a day or two.
It was always funny to me that a number of the people who had to edit my outdoor material over the years were actually afraid of me. Me? One wrote a demeaning headline over a piece I’d written that involved gun owners. I don’t even remember what the story was about, but I remember the headline. He’d used a word that was as offensive to me as a gun owner as if I’d written a story about a black athletic and he’d used the N-word. He was trying to be cute, to be clever. It was about gun owners, less-than-human artifacts of our society today. He was trying to be cute. I was fired up. The sports editor happened to get my call when I was hot, and I may have said that I was gunning for the guy who wrote the headline. Gunning was a figure of speech, of course. But they all took it literally. In fact, the sports editor was quick to give up who wrote the headline because he wasn’t sure I might not actually take action against him.
While I used the fear to my advantage for years, it remains funny to me because they have so little knowledge about those of us who live in what is an alternate universe to them. Well, those of us who still hunt and fish and own guns might be declining in number as a percent of the world population. We might the ones who work hard to support our families, while paying taxes that subsidize the lazy, dishonest, and greedy. We might be the ignorant ones that still believe in God and pray we could be better people. But when the sun belches out an electromagnetic pulse that crashes our world or some enemy of our government shuts down our grid, we’ll be the ones who keep the rest of your sorry butts alive.
Or at least you better hope….