**From the Summer 2016 Issue of Ruffed Grouse Society Magazine
In my last message I mentioned that RGS and AWS held a two-day strategic planning session in February of this year. The team included both board and staff members and our work was guided by a strategic planning expert with broad experience in working with other major groups in the conservation and wildlife management community.
Our task was to envision RGS and AWS in the future by describing the accomplishments or significant works in progress we want to achieve 10 years from now. We looked at the drivers that are pushing us toward that future vision and the barriers that are restraining us. After that we prioritized these issues based on whether it was something that was too important not to address right away, needed to be done first before other things could be dealt with, could be done quickly or easily (low-hanging fruit), or issues that, if resolved, represented good “bang for the buck”.
The top three issues that emerged from this effort are:
- Resistance to scientifically sound habitat management practices
- Declining hunter participation of the American public
- Revenue generation
Each of these issues was examined more deeply to identify ways and means to overcome them. We also looked at metrics – what we are tracking today and what we should be tracking in the future. The session ended by considering what members currently expect from RGS and AWS and what they should expect in the future, and conversely, what does RGS and AWS currently expect from members and what should we expect in the future.
The issues listed above represent the most significant, long-term impediments to accomplishing our goals. Yes, there are other factors that also come into play, but these three were judged by our team to present the most persistent, widespread constraints to the broad pursuit of our mission.
Resistance to scientifically sound habitat management practices. This issue presents itself in two different ways: those people who are opposed to hunting as a legitimate outdoor recreational opportunity and those people who don’t understand, or flatly reject, active forest management as a scientifically valid technique for creating young forest habitat and keeping our nation’s forests healthy and vibrant.
Sportsmen and women, working in concert with wildlife management professionals, have demonstrated for more than a century now that regulated hunting enables wildlife populations to thrive and flourish. The same is true for the array of active forest management practices known to be protective of the environment and allow natural forest succession processes to carry on.
The task that confronts us is to communicate these facts more clearly and creatively – and communicate this message more effectively to the general public instead of just ‘preaching to the choir’ as we’ve done so often in the past. Lack of public understanding leads to poor political outcomes, and it drives public agencies away from science-based policy and toward the expediency of conflict avoidance. Furthermore, we need to become more insistent that our public agencies become advocates of sound science and not let them get away with simply serving as arbitrators of varying points of view. Their job is to manage the resources within their responsibility by using sound scientific management practices, and we need to see to it that they do their jobs.
Declining hunter participation of the American public. It’s a well-known fact that the number of hunters, as a percentage of the total population, has been declining for decades. And if you look around the room at any RGS or AWS banquet, it’s pretty clear who makes up the narrow slice of population demographic that currently comprises the bulk of our membership.
Here, our task is obvious. What is less obvious is how we go about tackling this challenge. The approach we are following here at RGS and AWS focuses more on peer-to-peer marketing than mass-marketing. What we mean by that is Millennial-to-Millennials, Gen X-to-Gen Xers, women-to-women, etc. The one exception to this is youth recruitment where adult experience and supervision is needed. However, our youth initiatives always encourage the participation of parents or guardians.
To do this work, we need programs and we need to communicate through media channels these groups use. We currently offer programs like the Hunter Mentor Program and Women’s Introduction to Wingshooting. We also sponsor the Wildlife Leadership Academy for juniors and seniors in high school. This program is now offered in Pennsylvania, and we are laying plans to expand into other states beginning in 2017. We stepped up our digital media presence over the last 12 months, and you’ll see even more developments as we go forward. Last fall’s Grouse Camp Tour was a great success, and it will return again this year. The Project Upland videos, produced in cooperation with Dangerous Cow Productions, attracted loads of new folks to our digital media outlets, and you’ll be seeing more of those, too.
The common term the conservation community uses for this work is ‘recruitment, retention and reactivation’ and RGS and AWS will continue to expand our efforts in this area with initiatives that are relevant, impactful and will make a lasting difference.
Revenue Generation. You’re probably not very surprised to see that the question of funding appears on this list. This issue of the magazine includes the 2015 RGS and AWS Annual Report which contains financial information showing the sources and uses of funds we manage. On that page you’ll see that our administrative expenses run less than 11 percent and fundraising expenses are under 1 percent. All the rest goes toward the direct costs of RGS and AWS mission programs and activities.
We’ve worked hard to hold our administrative expenses at or below historical levels and the greatest growth in our spending has been on direct mission costs. With your help RGS and AWS has set records in each of the last three years on habitat projects (number of projects, dollars spent and acres impacted), and we intend for that to continue. Much of this growth has been fueled by matching RGS and AWS-raised dollars with gifts and grants from foundations and government agencies, sometimes leveraging an RGS and AWS-raised dollar by more than tenfold by time it gets to work on the ground. The demand for those matching funds is high, and the more we have, the more projects we can do.
Traditional revenue streams remain critical to our ongoing success, and we will continue looking for ways to fine-tune them to keep them fresh, efficient and productive. At the same time, we will explore potential new revenue streams to enable us to further expand our mission impact.
RGS and AWS are clearly on the right path and moving in the right direction. Our challenges are to do more things, do them better and more completely. We can rise to these challenges because we have committed members, we have passionate volunteers and supporters, and we have a talented and dedicated staff. Working together to overcome these challenges brings us closer to achieving our objectives of healthy forests, abundant wildlife and preserving our sporting traditions.