McKean Minute: Grassroots Conservation – A User’s Manual

Last week in this space I told you about our Hi-Line Sportsmen group and the third annual fundraising party we threw last month. A couple hundred of our neighbors packed into the St. Raphael’s Catholic Church gym here in Glasgow to eat prime rib and bid on guns, donated art, and sporting goods.

By the time we paid for the firearms (purchased at our local gun shop), the bartenders, and the kids who helped serve food and clean tables, we were left with a pretty good balance of cash. That’s the idea. Hi-Line Sportsmen exists to put the funds we raise back on the ground in our community to help with everything from processing venison donated to our local food bank to funding boat docks at fishing access sites in our county.

We put aside seed money for the next year’s banquet, but the majority of our profit is available for community projects. It’s our goal to spend all our money every year, and because we almost always have more requests for funds than we do money, we’ve developed a competitive process to evaluate and award our funding.

The main tool is what we call our mini grants, and we developed a pretty simple application form that we use to rate and award projects. The form asks for things like number of acres affected, whether it’s public or not, and whether it’s a short- or long-term project. We ask whether it improves wildlife habitat, provides free and unlimited public access, whether other partners are involved, whether the project solves a problem, and whether it makes our community a better place in which to live and recreate.

Three or four of us sit on our Mini-Grant Committee, and we meet as needed to evaluate projects and recommend funding—generally up to $1,000 per application—to the full Hi-Line Sportsmen. We’ll often invite applicants to make a formal presentation, and then the whole group votes on the merits of the project.

In the past year, we’ve put some $15,000 back into our county. Here’s a selection of the awards:

  • You might recall the local mentoring program we initiated. I wrote about it here, and introduced you to Nick Fasciano, Gerald Giebink, and Daniel Glick, all folks who participated in our mentored-hunting project. Hi-Line Sportsmen made funds available in case any mentors or apprentices wanted to donate their deer to the local food bank. We covered processing costs for about 300 pounds of ground venison that benefitted local residents.
  • We sponsored a handgun course and personal-defense training for folks who wanted to get concealed-carry permits.
  • We helped fund 3-D targets at our local archery range.
  • We’ve awarded over $12,000 in scholarships to local high school graduates over the past 3 years.
  • We funded an Archery in the Schools package of bows, arrows, and targets for use in Glasgow Middle School;
  • We helped fund the electrification of public campsites along the Missouri River.
  • We helped Fish, Wildlife & Parks with materials and in-kind labor to improve fencing at a local wildlife management area;
  • We helped fund a public-information campaign on the need to make improvements to the Milk River’s in-stream flow that benefits fisheries, wildlife, and farmers.
  • We funded the installation of garbage cans at Vandalia Dam Fishing Access, with assistance from a local 4-H club.
  • And one of my favorites, and evidence that it doesn’t take a lot of money to do good work. We bought materials for gate closures fabricated by the shop class at a local high school and then distributed them to landowners who allow public hunting.

As I said last week, we don’t intend to take away from the mission of national “critter groups” like Ducks Unlimited or National Wild Turkey Federation. They’re doing work on a scale we can’t touch. But we’re proud of our ability to fill in the gaps and fund projects that would probably be considered too small and local for national conservation outfits.

But that’s the beauty of local conservation. No project is too small for our consideration, because the habitat we aim to improve is the human habitat right here at home.

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