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Union Volunteers Refurbish Trails at Government Canyon State Natural Area

February 6, 2014 in Adopt A Park, Articles, Conservation News, General, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) brought its Work Boots on the Ground conservation program to San Antonio, Texas on Jan. 17, when union trades workers, both from the local community and around the country, gathered to volunteer their time and expert skills to refurbish trails at Government Canyon State Natural Area, in San Antonio, Texas. The community project is one of many that took place last week during the city-wide Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. honorary observance.

san_antonio_275About 35 expert union trades workers generously volunteered their time and talents to clean up a 150-foot stretch of trail leading to the camping grounds at Government Canyon State Natural Area. Workers spent a large part of the day installing wood-frame barriers to help prevent future trail erosion and conserve the park’s natural setting.

The project was identified as a priority by the State Parks on its spring volunteer project list because most of the trail has been washed away by rain. It is the third conservation project the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program has sponsored and coordinated with the agency. The first project brought together union volunteers from Dallas and Fort Worth to evaluate and repair three bridges in various stages of disrepair at Cedar Hills State Park, making them safe for park visitors. The second, was the successful completion of a mobile deer blind, custom-built to provide safe, comfortable hunting for youth living with mobility and health challenges.

“The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance is very proud to support the conservation efforts of Texas State Parks,” said Fred Myers, Executive Director of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. “These projects align perfectly with the USA’s conservation mission and the unique trade skills among our membership, now at 213,000.”

Union workers who turned out to complete the job in a one-day timeframe, gathered at Government Canyon State Natural Area from the nearby United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 142 and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 653, both in San Antonio. Others who helped to make the project a success represented unions from across the country, in town this week for the AFL-CIO 2014 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference.

Gerry Showers, a business representative with IUPAT District Council 78 in Florida and President of the Central Florida Chapter Coalition of Black Trade Unions made the trip with a team of volunteers to pitch in on the project.

“This is a great opportunity to come together with all the unions to work in the community and give back,” Showers said. “It great to have the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance take part in this historic ongoing day of service for Martin Luther King Day.”

“We don’t usually have groups this large,” said Chris Holm superintendent of Government Canyon State Natural Area. “It’s amazing how hard these union members worked today to complete this well needed project. Thank you to the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance for choosing our state natural area for their conservation project.”

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance achieves landmark climb in membership to 213,000

January 13, 2014 in Adopt A Park, Articles, Conservation News, Fishing, General, Hunting, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

Increase in support powers expansion of conservation, youth initiatives

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) rings in the new year with landmark growth in its membership to 213,000 members. This positions the organization for ambitious growth and expansion in its delivery of wildlife conservation, outdoor access and youth mentoring projects.

Josh Kelly, 9, of Garden Ridge, Texas, sets his sights on a target from a custom deer blind in the Texas Hill Country. The successful completion of this USA’s Work Boots on the Ground conservation project, in partnership with volunteers and donations from the Houston-area Union community, affords kids with mobility issues to experience the thrill of the hunt safely and comfortably.

Josh Kelly, 9, of Garden Ridge, Texas, sets his sights on a target from a custom deer blind in the Texas Hill Country. The successful completion of this USA Work Boots on the Ground conservation project, in partnership with volunteers and donations from the Houston-area Union community, affords kids with mobility issues to experience the thrill of the hunt safely and comfortably.

As part of its growing events program, the USA plans to host 30 sporting clays shoots and 30 conservation dinners this year to bring together men and women from diverse trades for fellowship and fun while recruiting members and raising awareness and funds to support the USA’s conservation mission. Some of the USA’s celebrated conservation projects in 2013 included work on the Minnetonka Gun Club to expand shooting opportunities, the Annual Ohio Special Needs Youth Hunt, the construction of a custom deer blind in Houston, Texas, for kids with mobility challenges and a trail access improvement project at Virginia’s York River State Park. Each was made possible by a host of expertly-skilled volunteers who signed on to strengthen the outreach of the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program.

USA Executive Director Fred Myers said aggressive membership drives, in partnership with its union partners tied to exciting national promotions with dedicated corporate partners like Remington and Carhartt, along with the expansion of its events program are some of the factors that fostered the organization’s significant increase in membership.

“As the USA membership grows, we are able to organize and engage more and more union sportsmen and women to volunteer their time and unmatched trade skills to improve access to the outdoors and further the conservation of wildlife and our natural resources,” Myers said. “Our members share a passion for hunting, fishing, shooting and the great outdoors and are eager to share it with today’s youth. Working together, we can make great strides in passing on our incredible outdoor heritage to future generations.”

About the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) is a union-dedicated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or www.facebook.com/unionsportsmen.

Custom deer blind creates safe hunting access for kids with mobility challenges

November 21, 2013 in Articles, Conservation News, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

Volunteers raise money, support the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Work Boots on the Ground project

Nashville, TN – November 21, 2013 – A new, custom-built deer blind in the Western portion of the Texas Hill Country set the stage for kids with mobility issues to experience the thrill of the hunt safely and comfortably, due to the successful completion of a conservation project organized and sponsored by the Houston-area Union community and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA.) The blind, affectionately named “Hugo” for the USA member who solely constructed the park apparatus, was built to meet the needs of youth hunters dealing with a wide range of mobility issues from being wheelchair bound to using canes, crutches, or braces. Some are living with debilitating medical conditions from cancer to heart disease.

Sergio Hernandez, 17of San Antonio, TX

Sergio Hernandez,17 of San Antonio, TX

The project began last year, when members of the Houston-area union community came together for a conservation dinner organized by long-time USA members and project Co-Chairmen Michael Cramer and Mike Shelton to raise funds for the organization’s first conservation project in Texas. A year later in October, many of the same union tradesman who attended the first dinner attended the area’s second dinner to see the finished blind and to realize the project’s success.

“This truly was a labor of love,” said Cramer, financial secretary of UA Plumbers Local 68 in Houston. “It was a cooperative effort that is good for the community, good for youth with special needs and good for labor.”

Walt Ingram, the USA’s conservation dinner manager, said when the dinner attendees saw the slide presentation showing the stages of the project from start to finish, they clapped and cheered.

“Not only does it feel good,” said Ingram, “but it’s more about the idea that it is something we can contribute and leave behind to help our communities.”

“It’s really great to have an organization realize we had a need for a specialized hunting blind and to provide a mobile blind that exceeded our highest expectations,” said Jerry Warden, executive director of the Texas Youth Hunting Program, a division of the Texas Wildlife Association. “This blind is extremely well-designed and very user-friendly.”

Josh Kelly, 9 from Garden Ridge, TX

Josh Kelly, 9 from Garden Ridge, TX

Each year, the program, led by Warden and a team of trained volunteers, organizes 150 hunts, involving an average of 1500 kids in the sport.

The finished product is due to the engineering and ingenuity of Hugo Kraft, a member of IBEW Local 66 in Houston. After signing on to help out with the project and talking with Warden about the concept, Kraft was in his own words, “off to the lumber yard.”

“I brought it home and started building,” said Kraft, a USA member of five years. “I felt whatever it took, I’m donating that.”

Over the period of a few months, putting in the time Kraft equates to a weekend – the blind was finished. This deer stand is truly state-of-the-art with a wheelchair accessible ramp, a floor to withstand 500 lbs., a window ledge, an adjustable and a handmade gun prop, to support, “…a steadier, better shot,” he said.

Kraft’s final request to the conservation committee – to purchase a trailer to allow the blind safe transport between hunting grounds – was approved with a unanimous vote. Kraft went on to modify the trailer with enhancements of chains, a wench, straps, hardware, and even a spare tire.

“Anytime you can do something to help people with disabilities, it just makes you feel good,” he said.

About the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance:

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) is a union-dedicated outdoor organization whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the Union community to expand and improve hunting and fishing access and wildlife habitat throughout North America. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or www.facebook.com/unionsportsmen.

Union sportsmen volunteer for conservation projects

October 31, 2013 in Articles, Conservation News, Work Boots On The Ground

By Bill Knight

Labor unions work for wages, hours and working conditions, but also fishing, hiking and even “hacking towers,” as the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance volunteers to do what union workers do best: organize, work and defend – in their case, public spaces.

“It’s important to look toward the future impact we can have on America’s outdoor heritage,” said Fred Myers, director of Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA). “Whether restoring a weathered visitors center or rebuilding the park ranger station, USA members will come together to exhibit pride, craftsmanship, dedication and unity while demonstrating to all park visitors the best of what being union in America really means.”

A new USA project is at Anderson Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, the largest of seven Fulton County lakes just across the Illinois River from Bath, south of Havana. It’s the most recent of several Illinois projects showing organized labor’s talents and value to society.

“It’s important to give back to the community,” said Eric Patrick, Business Manager for Local 196 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), who coordinated a USA project in northern Illinois. “You hardly ever see anything positive about labor organizations on TV or in the news. Projects like this help demonstrate to the public that union members are part of the community and care about those around them.”

Tim Bindl, Work Boots on the Ground Program Manager

Tim Bindl, Work Boots on the Ground Program Manager

Tim Bindl, USA’s national events/fundraising coordinator and manager of its Boots on the Ground program, summarized USA’s mission in a phone interview.

“We work to unite the union community to expand and improve hunting and fishing access and wildlife habitat,” Bindl said.
“We’re just getting started in some ways,” he continued. “We’ll finish the [Anderson Lake] osprey hacking towers this fall and have more conservation projects next year.”

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance is more than a club, they say; it’s a cause.

“The future of our outdoor heritage depends upon the connection of today’s youth with nature,” said Kate Cywinski, Senior Communications Manager for USA, which is based in Nashville. “Boots on the Ground brings together union members willing to donate their time and skills for conservation projects.”

Union-member volunteers have done work as varied as building wild-hog traps and tree trimming to clearing debris and cleaning facilities.

A hacking tower feeds and protects young  ospreys

A hacking tower feeds and protects young ospreys

At Anderson Lake, about 50 miles southwest of Peoria, USA volunteers from the Carpenters and Laborers (LIUNA, the Laborers’ International Union of North America) are cooperating with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to construct hacking towers for ospreys, a fish-eating bird of prey listed as an endangered species in Illinois. Hacking towers are cages on platforms where young ospreys are fed and protected. When the birds are able, they’re released from the towers and usually return to nest in the area where they first flew. The idea is that the osprey can gradually and naturally return to the wild in its natural habitat in Illinois.

A couple of hours north of Peoria, members of the Painters and IBEW unions helped finish the new Youth Conservation Education Center and cleaned area campsites at Torstenson Family Farm. Owned and managed by the Illinois Conservation Foundation, the 750-acre property has woodlands, wetlands and prairies and is a hunting, camping and birding refuge used by area science classes, FFA members, Pheasants Forever and other groups.

“These projects are important to the labor movement because they give union members the opportunity to refine their skills while working together to volunteer for a great cause,” said Ryan Anderson, with Painters District 30. “Unions provide members with the best when it comes to career opportunities and representation. It’s great that our members are able to give some of that back to their communities with a skill set that allows them to do the jobs right.”

There, Operating Engineers have suggested helping develop a 5-acre pond and berms for a shooting range.

Wherever USA rallies its “troops, communities benefit,” Bindl said.

“USA not only helps with habitat and the quality of wildlife, it opens up opportunities, save foundations or states money, and opens up community involvement,” he said. “We’re geared toward the public.”

USA is largely self-sustaining. Last year, a sporting clays shoot in Illinois raised $50,000 to help support USA’s conservation activities, which range from TV’s “Brotherhood Outdoors” show to kids fishing events, from youth mentoring to the new Adopt-A-Park program, which already has helped rebuild foot bridges and improve access to trails in state parks in Tennessee and Texas.

There are more than 6,000 state parks in the United States, with more than 14 million acres of open space, 41,000 miles of trails, 207,000 campsites and 7,000 cabins, USA says. But, like Illinois, parks across the country face budget cuts and threatened shutdowns. Such financial pressures have created a backlog of repair and restoration projects, and USA is calling on its 60,000 union members to use their skills and volunteer to repair and rehabilitate projects that if left undone would deny access to the outdoors to millions of visitors, or even force states to close parks.

“Not only did labor come together to raise thousands of dollars to support conservation efforts,” commented Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan, “but union members from various communities around the state got the chance to connect on a lifestyle level outside of the workplace not only as brothers and sisters but as sportsmen and women.”

To learn more about the benefits of USA membership, visit http://unionsportsmen.org/take-action/join/

Article courtesy of: The Labor Paper, 400 NE Jefferson, Peoria, IL 61603, for subscription information call 309-674-3148 or email sharon@westcentralbtc.org.

Wisconsin Union Volunteers Save Mississippi Wildlife Refuge $11,000

September 13, 2013 in Conservation News, Work Boots On The Ground

“On time and under budget.” That’s a motto union workers live by, and this summer, a group of 15 Boots on the Ground union volunteers proved that ethic extends beyond jobs they get paid for.

In 2012, the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, which runs along the Mississippi River through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, opened the La Crosse Visitor Center in Onalaska, Wis. Covering 240,000 acres, the refuge encompasses one of the largest blocks of floodplain habitat in the Lower 48 and offers both scenic beauty and productive fish and wildlife habitat. The Visitor Center serves as a gateway to the refuge and features exhibits, meeting rooms, interpretive presentations, trails and observation areas.

With the support of the Western WI Building & Construction Trades Council (BCTC) and Western WI AFL-CIO, union volunteers laid landscape pavers around the Visitor Center kiosk on July 31, saving the refuge $11,000 that can now be used for conservation and education programs. When USA’s Boots on the Ground Program Manager Tim Bindl showed up at the site 30 minutes early, volunteers representing the Laborers’, Bricklayers, Plumbers & Pipefitters, Firefighters, Insulators and Cement Masons were already hard at work, spreading the foundation.

“We are thankful we can give back to the communities that we live and work in,” said Terry Hayden, business manager of UA Local 434 and president of the Western WI BCTC. “This project was a great example of what the Union Trades do every day on the jobsite. There was no wandering around. These guys showed up ready to work and knew what to do to get the job done for the customer.”

With a compactor and skid steer donated by Hengel Brothers Inc. of La Crosse and a paver saw donated by Market & Johnson of La Crosse and Eau Claire, the volunteers backfilled gravel, leveled sand, installed pavers and finished the entire project that was expected to take a full day in just eight hours.

“We want to express our appreciation for all your efforts. ‘Unbelievable’ is the word used by several of our staff,” said James Nissen, La Crosse District Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It was a very professional job completed by a very professional crew. On behalf of our staff and the many thousands of visitors who will benefit from all your hard work, we thank you.”

See the photos of this project.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and WI Unions Reel in Great Event

June 17, 2013 in Articles, Conservation News, Fishing, Work Boots On The Ground

In a world where modern technology has become the entertainment of choice for many children under the age of 16, it is becoming increasingly important to introduce them to the outdoors at a young age.  Statistics show that the earlier kids get involved in outdoor activities, such as fishing, the more likely they will be to respect and enjoy the outdoors; programs like the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s recent Take Kids Fishing Day event are fantastic opportunities to begin teaching basic skills.

On June 8th and 9th at Peititebone Beach Park in La Crosse, WI and at Braun’s Bay Carson Park in Eau Claire, WI, the USA’s Boots on the Ground program coordinated the 2013 event with the help of local unions: Western WI AFL CIO, Greater Eau Claire CLC, Western WI BCTC, UA 434, IAMAW District 66 and the USW International.  Over the course of those two days, 25 volunteers logged 150 total volunteer hours and donated fishing poles, door prizes, snacks, tackle, and banners to help teach kids techniques, such as tying your own hook and reeling in a fish.  They also educated the kids on the size and bag limits for keeping fish and the laws for fishing with a license.  While the majority of those participating were under the required age for a fishing license (15), volunteers found the event to be a great opportunity to inform parents and children on license requirements and public access rules.

Take Kids Fishing La Crosse (66)

“Take Kids Fishing Day is the perfect opportunity to educate youngsters on the benefits of fishing,” said USA National Events Coordinator Tim Bindl. “It’s also a great way to show families the abundance of public access opportunities available in their own communities.”

Boots on the Ground programs such as this are great examples of the USA’s conservation mission in action. The experience that the 150 kids gained during the event can positively affect and influence their preferences for and love of conservation and outdoor activities for years to come.

“Take Kids Fishing Events are perfect illustrations of what the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance is all about,” said USA Executive Director Fred Myers.  “Being able to reach a young population, as this event did, enabled us to make a lasting impression and hopefully inspire kids to be more involved in conservation.”

Click Here to See More Photos from This Event

To find out how you can get involved in local conservation projects, contact Tim Bindl at timb@unionsportsmen.org or 608-397-1023.

NJ Pheasant Program Gets a Boost from Union Members

May 29, 2013 in Articles, Conservation News, Hunting, Work Boots On The Ground

The explosive flush, the beautifully patterned tail of a rooster in flight, the pride in a successful shot and a delicious meal after a day in the field–that’s what pheasant hunting is all about. Though New Jersey is the most densely populated U.S. state, approximately 12,000 residents hunt pheasant. This is made possible through the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife pheasant program, which raises and releases 50,000 pheasants annually across 24 Wildlife Management Areas that encompass about 100,000 acres.

This year, led by Tom Mattingley of IBEW Local 351, union volunteers from Electrical Workers Local 351 and 164, Insulators Local 14, Pipefitters Local 322, Sheet Metal Workers Local 27, Painters District Council 711 and Operating Engineers Local 542 teamed up to use their time and skills to support NJ Fish and Wildlife by raising funds and building the boxes needed to transport the pheasants.

Eager to help organize a USA Conservation Dinner and Boots on the Ground project in his area, Mattingley contacted a NJ Fish and Wildlife officer to find out how union members could assist the agency.

“In today’s world, when you walk up to a stranger and say you want to build something for them and also raise the funds to do it, they look at you like you have three eyes,” Mattingley said. “But I asked what we could do to benefit New Jersey sportsmen, and they suggested we build pheasant transport boxes.”

Check for $5,000 is presented to BOTG Pheasant Box Project Committee

Check for $5,000 is presented to BOTG Pheasant Box Project Committee

From there, everything began to fall into place. Using $5,000 from the money union members raised at USA’s 1st Annual Tri-State Area Conservation Dinner last fall, Mattingley purchased planked cedar to build the boxes. After volunteering at the conservation dinner and learning about the project, John Stahl III, the Apprenticeship Administrator for Insulators Local 14, coordinated volunteers to build the boxes. And after finding that one of his instructors, Don Mullins, has a complete woodworking shop behind his house, they soon had a location to build them.
“I think projects like this show what we’re all about,” Mullins said. “We’re not just individuals. We’re a brotherhood that works together to get things done.”

Armed with tablesaws, planers and Mattingley’s best drafting sketches in a shop that looks like it’s right out of the TV show, This Old House, union volunteers are cutting, shaping, drilling and constructing the lumber into specifically sized, stackable boxes that fit into a truck and hold 14 birds each. Once the boxes are all built, they’ll be painted by the 3rd year apprentices of Painters District Council 711. According to Mattingley, they’re a work of art–like bird condominiums.

(L-R) Don Mullins and Ray MacDowell

(L-R) Don Mullins and Ray MacDowell

“By raising money for materials and building the boxes, we’ve lessened the burden on the NJ Fish and Wildlife’s limited funds, so they can spend them on other things like more land,” Stahl said. “We can’t help them acquire more land, but we can sure help them with projects like this, and every little bit helps.”

For those interested in organizing a Boots on the Ground project, Mattingley offers this advice, “Don’t be afraid to ask what you can do. When this project got started, I didn’t know what we were going to do, but I went to the NJ Fish and Game, and they pointed us to the bird boxes. And through the bird boxes, I found the Insulators who have a woodshop and then the painters to paint the boxes. So instead of me trying to put this all together, it just sort of fell in place.”

“We need to get involved in conservation efforts because it’s our heritage, and we need to preserve our hunting privileges and lands,” Mattingley added. “The state Fish and Wildlife needs not only financial help but they need ‘hands on tools,’ and we have the skills.”

Click here to see more photos of this project.

Volunteers Wrap Up 1st Phase of Youth Shooting Facility

April 30, 2013 in Work Boots On The Ground

Wrapping up a year of beneficial Boots on the Ground conservation projects, Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) staff and union volunteers wrapped up the first phase of a youth shooting facility in College Grove, TN to help educate and mentor the next generation of shooting enthusiasts.

Looking for a local project with a long term impact in the community, the USA teamed up with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) and the Nashville Building and Construction Trades in early 2012. After months of planning, they launched a Boots on the Ground project to construct the Harpeth Scholastic Shooting Complex on a 20-acre plot to benefit the shooting programs of nine middle and high schools near the USA’s headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.

Students who belong to these school shooting programs currently drive up to 1.5 hours to practice and compete—a burden both for the students and their parents. The new shooting complex will make the shooting sports readily accessible to more than 200 student competitors each year.

Nathan May (left) and Glen Sloan (right) construct a 36’ gate for the shooting complex.

Nathan May (left) and Glen Sloan (right)
construct a 36’ gate for the shooting complex.

In phase one of the project, Ironworkers Local 492 member Glen Sloan and Helmets to Hardhats apprentice Nathan May constructed a 36’ gate for the entrance of the new shooting facility. Volunteers from IBEW Local 429, Insulators Local 86 and Ironworkers Local 492 installed the gate while several USA staff painted it on Dec. 1. IBEW Local 429 also secured a donation of electrical materials from Conti Electric in Nashville, TN—part of the nationwide Conti Corporation—to wire the facility and install outdoor lighting.

“The shooting sports are a great way to get youth away from their electronics and engaged in an outdoor activity that teaches important life skills like hard work, dedication, awareness and safety,” said Gerald Grant, IBEW Local 429 Business Manager and Financial Secretary and one of the committee members for this Boots on the Ground project. “We’re proud to offer our support to help build a shooting complex that will benefit youth in our community, including the children of some of our own union brothers and sisters.”

The shooting range is just the first step in the development of the property. The TWRA plans to raise additional funds to build a learning center for hunter safety and wildlife management, so students can complete the live firing portion of the course at the same location, and to refurbish an old barn on the site. The Nashville Building and Construction Trades have offered labor for any other projects they undertake at the facility.

“Many members of the Nashville Building Trades are avid hunters and shooters, so we were thrilled to get them involved in USA’s Boots on the Ground project,” said Anthony Nicholson, President of the Nashville Building Trades and Business Manager of Insulators Local 86. “It’s up to today’s youth to carry on our outdoor sporting traditions, and this new shooting complex will introduce more school-age children to the shooting sports, which may also spark their interest in hunting.”

“The hardest part of building anything that isn’t monetarily motivated is finding funding and skilled volunteers,” said Williamson County Wildlife Officer Joe Fortner. “We’ve been able to raise a significant amount of money but not enough to write a contractor a quarter million dollar check. That’s where the USA stepped in. Skilled union volunteers are able to do things the average volunteer couldn’t do. Without the help of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, we wouldn’t be able to build this facility at this time.”