Conservationists eye new generation

Caught in the open by approaching ducks just at shooting time, this hunter hunkers down to present a lower profile. The last three weeks of duck season could be the best hunting in a while.

Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I learn."

-- Chinese proverb

This year alone, a program called Outdoor Adventures has involved more than 30,000 youths in pursuits that most middle-aged sportsmen take for granted. The goal for next year is 50,000 students.

On April 1, the Rendezvous of the Guardians fundraiser is scheduled for the Westin Galleria Dallas, 13340 Dallas Parkway. It's the primary fundraiser for the Outdoors Tomorrow Foundation, which funds Outdoor Adventures and raised more than $165,000 last year. Rendezvous of the Guardians follows the traditional conservation fundraising template originated by Ducks Unlimited.

Since 1937, Ducks Unlimited, its membership consisting almost entirely of waterfowl hunters, has raised $4.5 billion to spend on improving and saving waterfowl habitats. Since 2007, Park Cities Quail, a small group composed almost entirely of quail hunters, has raised $6.6 million for quail research and conservation.

At its January convention, the Dallas Safari Club, its membership almost entirely big game hunters, raised $7 million to save wildlife and wild spaces.

It's a recurring pattern. The conservation groups that do the most good have a personal interest in saving fish, wildlife and wild places. Their members are involved.

Through public school curriculums, the Outdoors Tomorrow Foundation is looking to the future. It started in 1981 as the Dallas Ecological Foundation, but this 501(c)(3) nonprofit is undergoing a name change to OTF.

"With Dallas in the name, it became both confusing and limiting for potential new schools and donors," said George Chamblee, treasurer for the OTF board of directors. "We are now in 19 states. Our mission is to teach outdoor education and to promote and fund wildlife conservation."

This program is growing -- up from 14 states and 245 schools last year to 19 states and 300 schools this year. OTF makes 180 curriculum hours available to any school that's interested.

The course is fully accredited by the Texas Education Association. It has earned "Proud Partner" status from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Since OTF originated in Texas, this is its strongest state.

There are 280 Texas schools involved, with at least 150 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. An average of 100 students per school take the OTF course, learning hunter education, angler education, boating safety, archery, orienteering, kayaking, outdoors cooking, backpacking, hiking, first aid, survival skills and shooting.

OTF executive director Sean McClelland said he gets excited every time he walks into an Outdoor Adventures classroom.

"Outdoor Adventures gives students a chance to connect with outdoor skills that are mostly lost to their generation," McClelland said. "I'm personally excited about a program that not only teaches lifelong skills but also provides the motivation to keep kids in school."

About 58 percent of OTF funding comes from grants, 36 percent from private donations and fundraisers like Rendezvous of the Guardians. Memberships generate only 1 percent of the budget, though annual memberships cost just $50.

Details about the event, the program and how to get involved with OTF are at dallasecologicalfoundation.org.

Calendar

Today-Sunday -- Bassmaster Classic at Lake Conroe.

Saturday and Sunday -- KCKL-FM (95.9) Big Bass Tournament at Cedar Creek Reservoir. Visit www.kcklbass.com or call 903-489-1346.

Saturday and Sunday -- Early youth spring turkey season in the North Zone.

March 31 -- The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stops accepting largemouth bass of 13 pounds or more in its ShareLunker breeding program.

April 1 -- Spring turkey season begins in the North Zone.

RAY SASSER is a special contributor to the Denton Record-Chronicle. If you have an area outdoors event or big-catch picture, e-mail drcsports@dentonrc.com.

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