Courtesy of: Outdoorhub.com with permission, by, Daniel Xu.
This interview with Union Sportsmen’s Alliance CEO Fred Myers is part of OutdoorHub’s Leaders of Conservation series, in which we sit down with leaders of the North American conservation movement to learn more about the stories behind their organizations and people.
There are an estimated six million active and retired AFL-CIO union members who hunt, fish, or shoot in the United States. That alone would make them the largest constituency of outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen in North America. So it comes as no big surprise that after only six and a half years in operation, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) has already recruited 230,000 members.
“The USA’s mission is to unite the union community through conservation. Our goal is preserve North America’s outdoor heritage,” USA CEO Fred Myers told me. “This organization was founded for the purpose of providing millions of union members who hunt, fish, shoot, and spend time in the outdoors with their own outdoor organization.”
Fred founded the group in 2007 after a conversation he had at a banquet hosted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Association. Though a 25-year veteran of conservation work, Fred did not have much knowledge of unions or their vast reservoir of outdoorsmen. Speaking with another guest who happened to be a union member, Fred was wowed by what an untapped resource unions could be for the conservation community.
“It didn’t take long for me to put together a business plan,” Fred recalled.
At the time, he was serving as a vice president at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). The USA began as an union-focused wing of the TRCP, but spun off as its own entity in 2010. By that point, Fred said the organization had evolved into a full-fledged conservation group.
“It’s been a journey,” Fred shared. “In the beginning, it started as a kind of hunting and fishing club for union members. Once we got into it, we quickly saw the potential for the array of skills that our members had and they came to us about how they could best give back.”
The USA’s membership sports a large number of skilled tradesmen. That factor, combined with the wide distribution of its members, meant that the USA could tackle conservation at a local level —whether that entails planting native flora to halt the decline of wetlands, conducting fishing or hunting mentorship programs, and even construction projects to aid state wildlife agencies. Fred said with a chuckle that the USA is a bit like Habitat for Humanity in this regard.
“Our members volunteer their skills, their money, and their time to conservation projects all over the country. They’re working on projects that will improve access for outdoorsmen, preserve wildlife, and passing on our heritage in outreach programs for the children of all communities,” he said.
As the founder of the USA, Fred still has his hands in all aspects of the organization, although he joked that he has since hired people better suited for those roles than him. The USA may still be a newcomer on the conservation scene, but it has changed greatly since the days when it was just a hunting and fishing club for union members.
“Our members are part of every community in the United States. They’re police officers, firefighters, machinists, and roofers,” Fred said. “They are people that touch our lives every single day.”
He explained that with members and volunteers so widely distributed, initiating hands-on programs is as simple as reaching out to few local unions.
“When we go in and we say we want to go build a bridge, build hog traps for the DNR in Wisconsin, pheasant boxes in New Jersey, or fish tanks in Texas to transport fingerlings, our guys are already there. It’s amazing.”
Last November, USA volunteers in Texas finished building blinds for young hunters with mobility challenges. The project was undertaken by members of the Houston-area union community, and it was their enthusiasm that made the project’s completion possible. Fred hopes that the USA’s continued growth will mean more projects like that one in the future. Like many of his contemporaries, Fred agrees that the future of America’s outdoor heritage lies with the next generation, and a key focus of the USA is on outreach and educational programs.
Brotherhood Outdoors is perhaps the USA’s most well-known bid to get young or dormant sportsmen excited about the outdoors. The show, which airs on the Sportsman Channel, follows hosts Daniel Lee Martin and Julie McQueen as they take guests on some of the wildest hunting and fishing trips in North America. Brotherhood Outdoors also showcases the hard work of blue-collar union members, and their dedication to work on and off the job.
It is Fred’s belief that American workers are the nation’s greatest natural resource—and one that can help safeguard the others.
“We truly believe that we’re one of the most unique conservation organizations in America,” Fred finished.