Highlighted this week on The Opener is a blog from MUCC’s Policy Intern Lia Biondo about her most recent trip to Washington D.C. We are excited to see her off to her next adventure with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation in D.C. this summer!
This past week, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C for National Agriculture Week in our nation’s Capitol.
Through a generous scholarship from Agriculture Future of America, I met with approximately fifty other students from around the country that shared a similar passion of food and food production. Our primary goal was to educate our Congressmen and women on the importance of agriculture and how their support of the industry is critical in securing a safe, sustainable food supply for the country. We promoted agriculture at Congressional receptions and visits, industry presentations, and even a visit to the Department of State. We attended media and message training seminars, roundtable discussions with the United States Department of Agriculture representatives, and had breakfast with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden.
Lia Biondo (right), picture here with Senator Debbie Stabenow.
They certainly kept us busy during our visit! There were plenty of 5 AM mornings and late nights, but the policy training we received will undoubtedly prove to be invaluable as we progress through our professional careers.
Maybe it was Potomac Fever or maybe it was simply a lack of sleep, but my mind started to turn while working my way around the district. The presence of young people in agriculture was a refreshing sight to many of those making decisions up on the hill. To them, it showed that there is a future in the industry and that there are people who care about the outcomes of the decisions they make daily. There is also a different sort of energy that exudes from young professionals that is somehow weeded out of the senior members who have been repeatedly subjected to the same issues and same media messages. Our visit to the hill that day proved to the Congressmen and women that we care about the issues in our industry.
In the conservation community, we benefit from a common passion that binds us together. We wake at insane hours to hear duck calls echoing in a pale sky. We sit motionless and frozen, with our backs up against a tree, in a slim hope of intercepting that perfect buck. We spend all day staring not at a backlit screen, but at a sunlit screen of cool lake water. Our rod and our rifle may be left over from our grandfather’s days, but they are well-oiled and ready to work.
That common passion was given to us either through the way we were raised or the way we were brought to it in later years. That common passion is what drives us to protect and defend the natural resources we admire and cherish. It’s what drove us to collect over 375,000 signatures and $400,000 for the establishment of the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, an act that proved to the anti-hunters that we will not cater to their emotions. It’s what keeps us coming back year after year to spend money on hunting and fishing licenses, with the knowledge that our dollars will go towards further conservation efforts and habitat management.
That common passion is something that we need to keep ablaze. We need to ignite that spark for wilderness and the outdoors in our youth, so that it may burn bright throughout their life. We have Youth Hunts and Youth Fishing Weekends, but what about after the hunt? After the catch of the day? We need a clear path that will direct the youth towards wanting to preserve our state’s innate outdoor heritage.
The next generation is an integral part of the conservation community. Youth development programs are so important to having our voices heard in the halls of the Legislature. Take the kids outside. Let them grow a passion for all things wild. Or better yet, take them to camp. Even better, take them to Michigan OutofDoors Youth Camp at the Cedar Lake Outdoor Center near Chelsea, MI. Volunteer for one of MUCC’s On the Ground fish and wildlife habitat improvement projects. Educate youth on conservation practices, why we do what we do and what would happen if we didn’t. Invite young professionals to share their thoughts and opinions on conservation issues. Provide professional development for those students who show a vested interest in pursuing a career dealing with natural resource issues.
It’s all about lighting that first spark. That’s all it will take to get a fire going. Then, when it is their turn to stand and protect our natural resources, others will be able to see a glow in their eyes and an extra bit of determination in their step as they pull from that common passion. That is what it will take to conserve, protect and enhance our natural resources and outdoor heritage.