An aging sportsmen association gives back
An all-terrain vehicle stuffed with sacks of corn, bounces along a dirt road in the Colockum Wildlife Area, crests a hill and is greeted by a stunning, fog-filled sunrise.
Matt Gutzwiler is driving the vehicle and he is headed to fill one of 17 bird feeders in the wildlife area, so upland birds — such as turkeys — can survive the winter. Gutzwiler is a board member of the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association, which fills the feeders with assistance from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The corn will feed wild turkeys, but there is also other grains that will be used to sustain birds such as chukars and quails.
“Most winters I think they can make it without worrying about it,” Gutzwiler said. “But we start getting some of these winters where it gets really, really cold and you have a good snow and then it rains and you’ve got a crust and they just can’t get to most of their food.”
The feeders are wooden boxes with sloped roofs to withstand heavy snows that the association built in the wildlife area. Some of the feeders are almost 60 years old. Each bird feeder has two barrels that together hold about 300 pounds of grain. The hope is the feed will last through the winter.
The sportsmen association does all kinds of projects for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Gutzwiler said. The organization helps with annual turkey counts, builds tanks to catch rainwater for wildlife, participants in banding geese, plants vegetation and more.
“We’re not hunting and fishing,” he said. “We do and we enjoy that, but our deal is to make sure there is going to be something there for our grandkids and our children and really just try to preserve the habitat for the animals.”
In fact, fish and wildlife could not function at the level it does without the sportsmen association, said Staci Lehman, Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson. The Wenatchee Sportsmen Association even received the agency’s Organization of the Year award in 2019 for all of their assistance.
“The sportsmen association has really stepped up as far as stewardship on the wildlife area, so it really, really helps us out,” Lehman said. “We would need a lot more staff and a lot more funds to do everything that they help with.”
The agency has struggled with funding over the last 10 years and has seen its budget decrease, she said. It plans to ask the state legislature for about $26 million in additional funding this year or it may need to cut back on its wildland management.
The problem the organization is facing is that many of its members are aging, Gutzwiler said, he’s 67 years old himself. Younger hunters and fishermen are not joining the organization in sufficient numbers.
“No it is kind of like the elk foundation or the grange or even a lot of churches,” he said. “The next generation is just not getting involved.”
The number of people who hunt and fish is also shrinking, Gutzwiler said. He worries that as that number decreases, funding for agencies like the state Department of Fish and Wildlife will also disappear.
“The fewer licenses that are sold the less there is going to be in the game department budget to work with these animals and protect them,” he said. “They’re going to end up having to lay off people, they’re going to end up having to sell off property.”
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is one of the largest owners of public property in the state, Lehman said. They own about 1 million acres.
By Tony Buhr firstname.lastname@example.org