Short of a handful of businesses and organizations that are thriving as the United States moves through various stages of shutdown and measured reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial hurt and damage is real for most.

In the outdoor world, many outfitters and small community businesses that count on robust trade from hunters and anglers have folded their tents. International hunting destinations, places where entire villages depend on an influx of foreign spending on safaris and adventures, are in limbo.

Hit particularly hard are nongovernmental conservation-related groups. These groups depend heavily on cyclical, grassroots fundraising.

The National Wild Turkey Federation is one organization in financial jeopardy, having just undergone a second wave of layoffs, furloughs and other budget-tightening steps. More than 50 people, many of them longstanding, respected biologists and regional directors, were among those given pink slips last week.

The NWTF’s fundraising season kicks off soon after spring gobbler season opens and lasts into the summer—the precise period when most public gatherings were banned nationwide. Banquet-type events were canceled or, at best, postponed.

The NWTF, founded in Fredericksburg in 1973, has been a conservation leader and hunter advocate for nearly 50 years.

Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Humphries announced late last week a new capital funding campaign dubbed “Call for All.” The goal is to raise $5 million by the end of August, before the organization closes its fiscal year books.

“We have never experienced the level of financial concern as we face today,” Humphries wrote. “Due to COVID-19 and the resulting halt of our fundraising events this spring, the NWTF has experienced a near catastrophic loss of revenue that has forced us to cut operational expenses.”

Humphries said the staff cuts were extremely difficult, calling those who were laid off “dedicated, passionate individuals” who are “friends, colleagues, mentors and members.” She said NWTF is reaching out to its volunteer chapters, partners and supporters to discuss plans moving forward.

About the $5 million goal, Humphries said, “Together, we can get there, but we need the help of our members, donors, friends and partners like never before.”

Ducks Unlimited and other associations dependent on usual fundraising tactics are also experiencing pain.

Matt Coffey, DU’s senior communications manager, said, “We’ve had furloughs for employees who couldn’t complete their responsibilities from home, but we’ve brought a few back and will continue to do so as work picks up.”

DU Chief Executive Office Adam Putnam reassured members in a video that even though business was altered, the organization’s conservation work was continuing, even if it meant engineers, biologists and other staff slept in ice-fishing shacks or their vehicles instead of hotels.

Putnam said DU would look at diversifying its supporter base and income streams to minimize risk. The crisis has shown organizations can get by with less travel and conduct successful fundraising events online.

Join and donate

I’ve written before in this column about the importance of belonging to conservation organizations. You don’t have to be a hunter or angler to join. People who simply love wildlife and the outdoors are welcome. Memberships are affordable, typically $35. With that, you get access to professionals who share your passions and promote their future. If you’re a member or former member, renew that membership or sign back up. Sign up some friends and relatives. If you’re the type of person who enjoyed the fun, camaraderie, fundraising spirit of the actual banquets, get involved in some of the many “virtual” fundraisers taking place online. Of course, anyone can simply donate.

These organizations are highly efficient when it comes to putting member money and donations toward actual work in the field. Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. The NWTF was the leader in getting wild turkeys restored across the United States and, today, supports ongoing research and efforts in sustaining those populations. This includes partnering with many other groups on habitat projects, some at a “landscape” level. The projects NWTF and DU support benefit many other wildlife species beyond ducks and turkeys.

Conservation nonprofits are also influential in the policy and legislative arenas, helping elected and appointed leaders shape laws and regulations that respect hunter and angler interests. Another terrific thing about some of these conservation efforts is that they also work to keep land from being developed, preserving outdoor opportunities for future generations.

Alabama bass invades

Once again, it appears people are transporting and releasing nonnative fish species into Virginia waters. Don’t do that.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) just announced that Alabama Bass (a black bass species native to Alabama and parts of Georgia) have been found in several lakes, including Claytor Lake, Philpott Lake, Martinsville Reservoir and Lake Gaston.

According to VDWR, Alabama Bass are highly invasive and threaten both largemouth and smallmouth bass through competition and hybridization. The agency believes further spread of Alabama bass may jeopardize bass fisheries in places such as Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Anna, Lake Moomaw, South Holston Reservoir, the upper James River and the Shenandoah River.

Alabama bass look nearly identical to spotted bass, a species native to southwestern Virginia. Alabama bass can grow somewhat larger than spotted bass, but tend to become stunted, creating a fishery dominated by small bass.

Virginia is looking for additional evidence of this bass in commonwealth waters. Anglers who suspect they caught an Alabama bass should take a picture of the fish, clip off a thumbnail-sized portion of one pelvic fin and store the clipping dry in an envelope. Then, contact VDWR at fisheries@dgif.virginia.gov or at 804-367-1293.

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