Pondering who is the future of conservation
By Ben Gruber
On March 18, the MarshPoint Chapter of Kids and Mentors Outdoors (KAMO) hosted the 10th annual state KAMO meeting. It was my sixth, and final year, as the vice president of the organization. I am excited, relieved, and a bit sad to put the end on that part of my life.
KAMO has seven chapters, all in the state of Wisconsin. All were represented at our all-day meeting. Everyone from out of town raved about the facility at the Mead Wildlife Area, and we committed to holding our meeting there next year too.
I have spent a lot of time recently reflecting on where we came from, where we are, and where we are going.
I became a KAMO mentor in 2009 at the age of 26. I did not really know how to mentor or really what it even meant. I just knew that I enjoyed being outdoors and being around kids. It just seemed natural, so when I read the “calendar event” for a KAMO meeting, I went and signed up.
Mentoring is not tough. You just do what you did before, only you take a child along. It is what was a natural progression for many of us, usually with fathers, uncles, mothers, brothers, sisters, and neighbors.
Today, the dynamic is shifting, and with more working parents, more scheduled activities, and more electronics, it just seems that there is not that opportunity for every child. Enter KAMO, where we seek out willing mentors, perform a background check, and then match them up with a local child who shares some interest in similar activities.
After two years as a mentor, I was asked by Mark Walters, president and founder of KAMO, to consider being his vice president. I agreed to do it for two years. Six years later, I have a family, a farm, and a growing KAMO chapter of my own, and it was time to pass the torch.
I enjoyed the many opportunities I had and the connections I made. I kicked butt on many things and dropped the ball on some others. I impacted some lives and agonized over those we were not able to reach.
The Natural Resources Board of Wisconsin appointed me to the Sporting Heritage Council and the Fisheries Advisory Council. I was one of eight representatives from across the country chosen by the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports to attend a groundbreaking collaborative summit on outdoor mentoring.
What is the point of sharing all of this? First, if you are interested in something, you can really dig in, get involved, and go places. Second, across the nation we are trying to find answers to declining participation in hunting and fishing.
Why is it so important to have people participate in hunting and fishing? The No. 1 reason is that it is vital to conservation. Purchase of licenses and stamps and voluntary excise taxes on guns, ammo, and fishing equipment are far and away the primary sources of funding for habitat, wildlife management, and land acquisition and preservation. Also, children who are hunting and fishing are learning valuable life skills and generally staying out of trouble.
I am cautiously optimistic about the role of KAMO in our community. KAMO is a model that is watched and envied around the nation. Our model of continued one-on-one mentoring, not just “one and done” introduction events, has potential to be a solution, but we are not immune to the struggle of finding willing mentors. I have no problems finding kids interested. I do have problems finding willing mentors.
I would love to talk to you more about KAMO. I really need mentors. I also have a need for community support in the form of donations, and I can also use a few motivated individuals interested in helping me run the chapter even if you have no interest in mentoring. We meet the first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the visitors center of the Mead Wildlife Area. You can also email us at KAMOMarshPoint@gmail.com.
It has been a wild ride, leading places I never dreamed. I am not throwing in the towel, but I am excited to redirect more of my efforts locally. I hope to see you all out in the field sometime.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.