American Wilderness Leadership School Youth Program
The Heart and Soul of SCI
by Eddie Grasser
If one were to ask into the main purpose of SCI they would receive a variety of answers with advocacy and conservation being first and foremost. There’s a pretty good argument to be made for each of those endeavors as being crucial to hunting based conservation, but it occurs to me that the bylines “First for Hunters” and “Preserving the Freedom to Hunt” are cause for deeper reflection.
For the last two years I have had the privilege of teaching high school students during student week at AWLS. That experience and the caliber of the youth in attendance have given me a clearer picture of what is truly important if we are ever going to come close to realizing SCI’s ability to preserve hunting. Quite frankly there is only one way to accomplish that objective, education.
We’ve been educating students both young and old at AWLS for years and there continues to be standout participants each year such as Steve Skold who is now SCI’s Deputy President-Elect. The student session of 2016 was no exception. We had 28 students ranging from 16 to 18 years of age with 22 boys and 6 girls. Many of these students have the intellect, the drive and the passion to be the next Steve Skold.
In 2015 our Director of Education Sue Hankner introduced a new advocacy component into the curriculum and asked that I join her in teaching the class. I jumped at the chance and left last year’s session itching to do more. Working with Dr. Gary San Julian and Deputy Director of Education, Todd Roggenkamp, we made some significant improvements in the curriculum for this year and learned a lot more while we were at it.
The student session starts off with an intro to SCI and some team building, get acquainted exercises. Students are immersed in an absolutely fantastic natural setting and learn about conservation, outdoor skills and now advocacy. The teaching and support staff at AWLS is top notch and everyone works as a team to teach the students important conservation/ecology concepts and outdoor skills such as shooting, archery, fly fishing, hiking and camping.
For this year’s advocacy class we had the students take on the Endangered Species Act and the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting. After 4 days of prep work, a mock legislative hearing was convened with myself as chair joined by Senator San Julian, Senator Klingler, Senator Valley and Senator Yuhas. The students were paired up, assigned to a specific organization; some drew the short straw and had to represent anti-hunters, and had to present testimony in front of the committee. With a few exceptions the students turned in stellar performances.
Whenever I’m trying to solve a problem, I try to get focused on the base cause. With all the research data available related to hunting, there is little doubt in my mind that urban acculturation and lack of opportunity are the driving indicators where the future of hunting is concerned. We need mentors to help get young people out there, we need advocates to keep the tradition alive and we need conservation to ensure there will always be opportunities.
The heart and soul of SCI? It boils down to the future and how we arrive there with our heritage intact. I am pleased to say that after two years teaching our youth at AWLS I am optimistic that the students we’ve hosted will be integral to whether we have a future that gets passed on as part of the fabric of American life. They will make the difference.