FEB 26, 2024   |   Voice of Leadership Panel

Conservation Leaders are Born on Campus

By Brent Miller, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation

Many in the sportsmen’s community are aware of the increasingly marginalized role our sporting traditions now have in the minds of many members of the public, and the numerous and well-documented societal and cultural shifts that have caused this.

Conservation Leaders are Born on Campus

Many in the sportsmen’s community are aware of the increasingly marginalized role our sporting traditions now have in the minds of many members of the public, and the numerous and well-documented societal and cultural shifts that have caused this. Pre-COVID we saw a societal shift towards urbanization, and with that came a sense of disconnect from nature. Fewer people are being allowed to be introduced to hunting, fishing, or trapping, and fewer who don’t participate find themselves in proximity to those who do.

It’s no secret that (with the notable exception of the COVID-bump in license sales that has now been washed away) the national number of sportsmen and women has been on a generally declining trend since the mid-80s. With fewer participants, our voice as a community gets weaker, and without effective advocates our voice in the policy process would begin to weaken as well. Simply put, hunters and anglers now comprise a significantly smaller portion of elected officials’ constituencies than they did even a decade ago, let alone 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

With that reality we’ve also seen an increase in the sophistication of the anti-sportsmen’s community in shaping public opinion against us. They are well organized and well-funded and are continuously spreading misinformation and emotional propaganda to whittle away at our shared outdoor heritage. Although polling continues to indicate broad general support for hunting, that support has been found to be conditional. When examining support for hunting various species or for utilizing specific methods of take, support levels begin to drop off. Moreover, recent research (2023) conducted by Responsive Management and the Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation found that for the first time in decades we’re now seeing a statistically significant decline in public support for hunting.

Alongside these factors, we also have a public that does not fully understand the critical role that hunting, fishing, trapping, and recreational shooting play in funding the vast majority of the on-the-ground conservation work of our state fish and wildlife agencies. This lack of understanding partly allows for the conditional support for hunting noted previously. While not an exhaustive list, each of these factors, to some degree or another, has a direct impact on our collective conservation goals and objectives. The confluence of these factors also creates a feedback loop wherein, through time, the voice of sportsmen and women in the policy process would continue to weaken were it not for effective advocates.

So, the question then becomes, “Where do we go to develop the next generation of conservation advocates and leaders?” Colleges and universities are a natural fit, as the final step in academia before potential future leaders entering the workforce. However, we have our work cut out for us on many campuses throughout the country, with animal rights organizations currently pushing an anti-hunter agenda from elementary through law school. The halls of academia have now become new battlefields on which the hearts and minds of today’s youth are shaped for or against our time-honored sporting conservation traditions.

Despite the efforts of the anti-hunting community, college students, like the public at large, are generally very supportive of “conservation” efforts; however, many lack a full appreciation for the sustainable use principles inherent to the definition of the word, and as such are also generally unaware of the importance of hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping for conservation in America today. This lack of understanding leaves them vulnerable to the anti-hunting rhetoric that is present in many institutions of “higher learning.”

There are presently very few colleges, or college courses for that matter, that teach students about principles such as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Misinformation, or at best information gaps, in higher education curricula put our outdoor sporting traditions at risk due to a growing number of students who are studying public policy, wildlife biology, and other conservation-related majors, but are not learning about the benefits of hunting, angling, trapping, and recreational shooting as they relate to conservation efforts nation-wide. These students are then entering the workforce within state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and NGOs to work on conservation issues without ever having been educated on the role of America’s true, and original conservationists – sportsmen and women.

To address this issue there are no shortage of efforts currently underway. Several sporting-conservation NGOs, such as Ducks Unlimited, Inc., are now running very successful college programs designed to promote hunting and get more college students afield. There are also a number of school-sanctioned offerings on many college campuses that students can take part in such as various shooting and bass fishing teams, to name a few. While all these efforts are incredibly positive, and do help to move the needle, they are not ubiquitous, and do not address the issue of developing true advocates for hunting and fishing in the policy arena. To fill this particular void, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has now launched the Collegiate Sportsmen and Women’s Coalition (CSWC).

Through the Coalition, CSF will facilitate positive interactions with the outdoor sporting community which will provide Coalition members with an educated understanding of sportsmen's issues to help shape their views of our sporting traditions’ value in today’s society. We hope many members will continue to engage in advocacy efforts on behalf of fish and wildlife conservation and our sporting heritage long after they graduate. Some, we hope, will populate the ranks of hunter and angler advocates at agencies, organizations, and companies as those of us currently in the profession start to rotate out. Others may even decide to run for office one day and end up joining one of the sportsmen’s caucuses CSF supports. Even if they don’t, however, the understanding of and appreciation for the role of sportsmen and women in today’s society they will gain through Coalition membership will allow them to advocate for hunters and anglers in their day-to-day lives and conversations, ultimately helping our community maintain or enhance public support for our way of life.

Beyond general education on hunting and angling issues and increasing general support for our traditions, CSF will be facilitating direct engagement by CSWC members in the policy process. Coalitions will interact with and support sportsmen’s caucuses and their members at events, and on key policy items. Leaders of the Collegiate Sportsmen and Women’s Coalitions on each campus will also work directly with CSF staff to develop and disseminate relevant policy education materials about matters before the legislature to their members. However, CSF’s support of the Coalition does not stop with providing them briefing materials. CSF will work with these Coalitions to develop and submit testimony, letters, and other policy advocacy materials to support the work of the caucuses and in support of the Collegiate Coalition’s mission to educate college students on how to effectively engage with elected officials on policy issues related to our time-honored sporting traditions.

Presently, Collegiate Sportsmen and Women Coalitions are active at Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Mississippi. If you are a college student (or know one) who is interested in learning more about the Collegiate Sportsmen and Women’s Coalition and how to bring one to your school, please reach out to Isabella Mucci, CSF’s Collegiate Sportsmen and Women’s Coalition Coordinator for more information. Isabella can be reached at imucci@congressionalsportsmen.org. Together we can ensure the next cohort of future conservation leaders and advocates are well-informed, and possess hands-on advocacy experience championing hunting, angling, and other conservation issues.

Brent joined the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) in the fall of 2010, then spent over a decade managing CSF’s state-level work in the northeast region – supporting regional sportsmen’s caucuses and members; significantly expanding pro-sportsmen infrastructure; directly engaging in the policy process in support of hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping; and supervising and mentoring others in the same. During this time Brent also served as the organization’s lead for firearm, knife, and deer management issues at both the state and federal levels, while providing a wide range of administrative support services for the States Program Team (SPT) – which ultimately saw him leading the SPT as Senior Director in 2022. Now as Vice President, Policy, Brent continues to serve as the head of CSF’s state-level engagement nationwide and leads a team of 10 regional staff in support of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, the Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus, the Collegiate Sportsmen and Women’s Coalition, and their members. Brent has been trained at Harvard Kennedy School in Nonprofit Leadership, which included focal areas in organizational leadership and management, strategic planning, financial stewardship, marketing, and development. Prior education includes a Master of Science in Environmental Policy, a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a Criminology concentration, two Associate of Science degrees in Criminal Justice and Individual studies, and a Professional Development Certificate from The Wildlife Society. Brent currently serves as a Board Member of the American Suppressor Association Foundation; and previously served as Secretary of the New York Sportsmen’s Advisory Council, an inaugural Member of the Maryland Sportsmen’s Marketing Initiative, and as a Member of the National Wildlife Services Advisory Council under two Administrations.

2023-2024 Voice of Leadership Panelists

Jon Zinnel, Federal Ammunition
Dan Forster, Archery Trade Association
Brent Miller, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Rick Brazell, First Hunt Foundation
Mark Peterson, Worldwide Trophy Adventure
Michelle Scheuermann, Bullet Proof Communications


The Voice of Leadership Panel is an appointed group of outdoor industry leaders who have volunteered to contribute their voices on crucial hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire, and educate participants within our community.