For years now I’ve been frustrated that sportsmen (anglers and hunters) and environmentalists can’t seem to get along. That frustration came from the fact that both groups are fighting for what seemed to me, basically the same things: wild and natural places, a cleaner environment and the chance for our children and grandchildren to find joy in the great State of Wisconsin.

But many sportsmen have cast environmentalists, whom they like to call treehuggers (amongst other things) as the enemy set on taking away their hunting, fishing and gun rights, even if that is not the case. Likewise, some hardcore environmentalists and animal welfare advocates see outdoorsmen as gun-toting, wing-nuts just interested in hooking and shooting everything they can.

I consider myself an outdoorswoman and an environmentalist. I believe in preserving wild places, sustenance hunting and that we are changing the climate (not in a good way). But truth be told, I felt kind of lonely out there in this space, and was left hoping that I was just part of some silent majority.

Yet I have met many hunters with a common goal who believe in true conservation, with both environmentalist and sportsmen interests at heart. They also believed, as I did, in true democracy, which often means opposing viewpoints coming together. In fact, I have found friends in the hunting community that don’t seem to mind that I am a non-hunter and appreciate what I have to bring to the table.

Many people talk about respecting the animals that they hunt, and I can 100% support the Wisconsin hunters who maintain a high standard of ethical hunting practices. This in turn, is good for everyone, sportsmen, animal welfare advocates and environmentalists.

I look forward to Wildlife day at the Capitol where we can collectively work to bridge that gap between sportsmen and environmentalists, and finally get us all working together toward one common goal: Conservation in Wisconsin.

I hope my fellow Wisconsinites are just as excited about that possibility as I am. We believe in something that is gaining momentum: Compassionate Conservation. Compassionate conservation is concerned with the humane treatment and welfare of individual animals within the framework of traditional conservation biology in which the focus is on species, populations, or ecosystems.

Again, often there is polarization between those interested in animal protection and those interested in conservation. It is all too easy to trump individual animal welfare for the widely shared goal of preserving biodiversity. Compassion for animals should be a fundamental part of conservation because poor outcomes are often consistent with the mistreatment of animals, which can make it difficult to understand what sportsmen do have to offer in terms of true conservation.

Melissa Smith

Executive Director

Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife