In the Arena: Erin Block
9 mins read

In the Arena: Erin Block

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series features the voices of hunters, anglers and conservationists who, as Theodore Roosevelt said, bravely fight for the righteous cause of environmental protection.

Jamie Dahl

Home town: Fort Collins, Colorado
Occupation: Assistant Professor, Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, Colorado State University
Conservation certificates: A natural resources educator and forester who uses field experience to instill in the next generation an environmental ethic – and an appreciation for the role of hunting and fishing in conservation efforts.

Jamie Dahl is an avid outdoorswoman from Pennsylvania. She has been everything from a certified forest firefighter and chainsaw instructor to a professional forester and volunteer coordinator. In her personal life, she is a hiker, hunter, fisherman, and a mother who teaches her two sons about sportsmanship and conservation. Her current career focuses on teaching college students how our natural environment and social justice issues connect to everything and everyone..

Here is her story.

Photo credit: Bill Cotton/Colorado State University

One of my most memorable hunts was when I was turkey hunting with my husband in Colorado. Coming from Pennsylvania, we were still trying to figure out how to hunt turkeys out West (really, we’re still trying). We were sitting in the ponderosa pines on public land in Estes Park, where we often heard turkeys, but mostly in the distance or on the next hillside. The morning we heard the turkey, my husband and I got ready. He made a good call and started calling the turkey. The bird responded by coming closer.

Finally it came into view. It was the first time I had seen the full strut, colors, and performance so close. The colors of the gobbler were so striking.

“There’s nothing like the quick adrenaline rush you get from hearing something gurgle on a cool spring morning.”

I never had a clear shot because several hens were protecting the turkey. It was like they knew it was a trick. They blocked and surrounded the turkey the entire time, and it just paraded around and seemed clueless. There is nothing like the quick adrenaline rush you get when you hear that gurgling on a cool spring morning.

I didn’t really start hunting until later in life. My uncle hunted throughout my childhood, and although I wasn’t interested in it at the time, I often ate the meat he shot. When I went to Penn State University to study forestry, my then-boyfriend hunted, as did his family. Sometimes I’d join them in the late-season muzzleloader hunts in Pennsylvania, just to watch.

Photo credit: Jamie Dahl

Later, I met my husband, Chris, at PSU, who also grew up hunting. He and his family were also supportive of my interests. Eventually, a friend at Penn State invited me to attend a special hunter education program for students and faculty called Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow. That program gave me the knowledge and skills to feel more confident and really start hunting in my early 20s.

My favorite time to hunt is still the late muzzleloader deer season in Pennsylvania, with family. Family is key. My husband’s family and friends have an amazing tradition of getting together this season, especially the first week, which in Pennsylvania is late December and January, so it can be very cold. If we’re lucky, there’s snow. I shot my first flintlock muzzleloader deer there, a special experience, and my friends and family were there.

We hunt in small groups and usually stop for a hot lunch at someone’s house. The social part makes it memorable. There are usually three generations involved, and now that we live in Colorado, we especially treasure the times when we can join in. If we’re lucky enough to bag a deer, we process it together and the people who still need it share the meat. If we’re not lucky? Hunting and fishing licenses and gear money help fund conservation, so I joke that in many seasons when I don’t bag an animal, I’m still doing my part to support conservation.

In addition to hunting and fishing for fun, I work in environmental communications and education. So when I think about conservation challenges, my brain goes to the need to change behaviors related to the land, air and water that we are all connected to. In Colorado, we have extreme recreational pressures, climate change, pressure on limited resources, wildfires and loss of habitat and species. But the real challenge is getting people to understand these complexities so they want to take everyday action to help.

Photo credit: Bill Cotton/Colorado State University

As I talk to the students I teach at Colorado State University (CSU), the environment and social justice intersect with everything and everyone. How can we provide strong education and messaging about natural resources to encourage people to protect and care for this one planet? To get everyone to care about climate change? We all have a stake in this, but these are complex issues that we don’t all agree on. We need to engage all different types of people, otherwise we won’t find practical solutions that fit. Some groups have historically been left out of decision-making, and that needs to change.

Our own tactics for communicating about environmental issues are often inadequate; most environmental professionals are not trained in communication and outreach. There are also barriers for some in accessing the outdoors; this is another key area that is overlooked. Who participates and who does not? Why? Where is the decision-making authority? These are some of the questions I like to ask. I don’t have many female friends who hunt (and I seek them out); when I hunt and fish, I also don’t see much racial and ethnic diversity, although that is changing very slowly.

“If you have ever harvested your own food, you probably feel more grateful for it.”

The fact is that participation in hunting and fishing has declined in recent decades. There are many reasons for this, but one is that many families and young people are more distant from the outdoors. There is also research that shows that people’s value orientations are changing. I respect those who say that hunting and fishing are not for them; however, if you work in natural resources and the environment, it is important to understand these activities as conservation tools.

Photo credit: Jamie Dahl

People are more likely to care for the environment, vote for it, and volunteer if they are exposed to it at a young age. In our household, both parents hunt, so our children (ages 10 and 4) are exposed to game hunting. Our oldest son has been interested in hunting and fishing since he was a toddler, and being outdoors keeps us away from electronic devices.

He especially enjoys fishing. It is an activity that the whole family can easily access and that is challenging. We learn together as we do it: what bait or lure we need, where are the fish today, how to care for the fish, if we catch one that needs to be released, and if we keep it, how do we clean and cook it? The young people gain many important benefits from this experience.

Photo credit: Jamie Dahl

If you’ve ever foraged your own food, you can probably feel a greater appreciation for it. We know that food doesn’t just show up in plastic wrap at the grocery store. We forage, wander, and practice aiming or throwing to potentially harvest a portion of our dinner for the day or year. And we appreciate the sacrifice an animal makes to help us sustain ourselves.

I always prefer to spend a day in the forest than sitting at the device.

Banner image courtesy of Jamie Dahl

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