The Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) was present at the Northwoods Youth Deer Hunt Challenge at the beginning of this month to talk with youth hunters and their families about the Youth Conservation Congress. The Conservation Congress, in general, was created as a way for the Natural Resources Board and the Legislature to gather public input. Many delegates provide representation on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) committees. As part of the administrative rule-making process, the WCC collects public input, studies problems and proposes solutions. It is truly the citizen-stakeholders' opportunity to get involved with rule making for all things related to conservation.
The Youth Conservation Congress' goal is to "effectively engage, educate and involve youth in management and protection of our natural resources and foster a conservation ethic through participation" in the YCC.
The idea started as a question on the spring hearings questionnaire in 2009. It asked if respondents would favor establishing a Youth Conservation Congress to get younger people involved in the rule making process. The answer was a resounding "yes." From there the Natural Resources Board (NRB) asked the WCC to undertake the process to create a Youth Conservation Congress (YCC).
The purpose of the program was to build a sense of ownership and involvement as well as to create civic-minded adults who could advocate for conservation efforts and become stewards of Wisconsin's natural resources and sporting heritage.
"They get to learn a little about politics," said Dave Blunk of the youth involved in the WCC. Blunk is a District 3 delegate serving Oneida County. "They get to learn about the DNR, and they get to learn how the rule-making process works, how their idea can go from a citizen resolution to a law."
Blunk and Jim Heffer represented Oneida County with Steve Budnik representing Vilas County. Each county had five representatives in the WCC, a chair, a co-chair and three delegates. Youth delegates, however are still needed. Budnik said that, while the YCC is growing, There are a few meetings each year a youth delegate must attend, but transportation to those meetings is provided by a WCC mentor if they are in other areas of the state. Youth involved will participate in all stages of policymaking as it is related to the WCC. This includes attending the district meeting, advisory committee meetings and the DNR and WCC spring hearings as well as the WCC annual convention. They will also have the opportunity to introduce a resolution of their own at the annual spring hearings.
Youth involved in the WCC gain real-world experience in a variety of different ways. Youth will gain an understanding of how ideas and solutions to problems can become natural resource policy. They will strengthen valuable skills such as problem-solving, effective communication, teamwork and leadership.
Youth involved in the YCC also get the chance to network with other like-minded youth from across the state as well as to work with adult WCC delegates. Youth also create and present an oral or poster presentation regarding their service-learning project. That presentation is given by the youth at the annual Wisconsin Conservation Congress convention. The YCC may also fulfill independent study requirements or service-learning hours or credits for some schools.
Involvement in the YCC will not only expose youth to the many factors involved in natural resources management, but also to various careers in fields related to natural resources. They will also have the opportunity to work with DNR staff on various volunteer projects throughout the year based on their particular interests.
The WCC is the only statutory body in the state where citizens have their interests represented to the (NRB) and the DNR, by county delegates they elect. Delegates take the ideas and interests of their county's stakeholders at the annual WCC convention held each May and make those concerns known to the DNR and NRB.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at email@example.com.