Longtime Sierra Club clean water activist and Kentucky Water Sentinel Tim Guilfoile was elected Vice President of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen by the League's Board of Directors at its state convention this June. A lifelong hunter and fisherman, Guilfoile has worked for years to help bring the conservation and hunter/angler communities together as partners, especially on the issues of clean water and habitat preservation.
Guilfoile says he didn't fully grasp the power of a Sierra Club/hunter-angler partnership until he started going to League meetings. Each meeting opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and closed with the Sportsmen's Pledge: "I give my pledge as an American to save and faithfully defend from waste the natural resources of my country: its air, soils and minerals; its forests, waters and wildlife." (Guilfoile is pictured below, standing in front of a slide of the pledge.)
"I found the Sportsman's Pledge was totally consistent with Sierra Club values," he says. "That was one of the things that inspired me to forge a Sierra Club/hunter-angler partnership." The other was the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, developed by the hunting/angling community, which states: Fish and wildlife resources should be reserved for non-commercial use of individuals, and managed to sustain populations at optimal levels forever.
"I figured if we can agree on these basic tenets, we have the basis of a partnership," Guilfoile says. "Local and regional sportsmen's clubs attract big numbers to monthly meetings. My fishing club meets 11 times a year, serves dinner, has an agenda, elects officers and a director, sponsors youth events—that's activism. And there are statewide umbrella organizations in almost every state that pull together all the state's sportsmen's clubs—grassroots people who like to hunt and fish. There's great potential for partnership here."
The League of Kentucky Sportsmen is one such umbrella organization, numbering approximately 10,000 members (compared with 6,000 Sierra Club members in the state). "When I first got involved with the League nearly three years ago most of the members were very stand-offish because they knew I was Sierra Club," Guilfoile says. "One guy wouldn't even talk to me. I just listened, learned, and got involved in trying to help them with their issues. It took years of steady work, but now they're starting to come on board and address more conservation issues. It's very exciting."
Bart Semcer, another lifelong sportsman and the Sierra Club's representative for fish and wildlife policy and hunting & fishing programs in Washington, D.C., says stereotypes are starting to break down. "We're no longer seen by sportsmen as aliens from Planet Green," he says, "and the outdoor press is more and more receptive to us. But we, too, need to be careful not to approach hunters with stereotypes. Hunters and anglers have diverse backgrounds. What's consistent is a passion for the outdoors."
Semcer says conservationists may not appreciate that hunters and anglers also care deeply about the environment. "Many hunters feel we don't appreciate the contribution they make to wildlife management and habitat preservation. Being pro-hunting is being pro-habitat. The appreciation of the natural world I got through hunting and fishing is what turned me into a radical environmentalist."
For his part, Guilfoile says he tries to stay away from politics at sportsmen's meetings. "Hunter/angler groups tend to be very conservative," he says. "I accept the fact that we may differ politically and focus on local issues we have in common. This partnership is going to take years—it's a long-term investment and we have to be in it for the long haul. But if we commit time and energy, sportsmen represent a huge mass of conservation-minded people. And when we find common ground on which we agree, we're a force to be reckoned with."
Learn more about the Sierra Club's work with hunters and anglers.
Photos used with permission.