Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Just what is the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen?

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Civitan of the Berkshires recently invited former Berkshire County League of Sportsmen president Mark Jester and me to give a presentation about the BCLS (In case you don't know what Civitan is, it is a worldwide organization with more than 30,000 members which are dedicated to serving the needs of local communities. It is dedicated to serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities).

Civitan currently has an initiative entitled "Know your Berkshires" and member Carol Zalek, who attended this year's BCLS's Youth Outreach fishing derby, was impressed with what she saw and asked that we speak at their next meeting.

We did speak and during the presentation, Civitan members apparently found it quite informative and wondered if we had any brochures or anything in writing that listed the activities in which we are involved. Well, we didn't, and the idea came up that perhaps I can write about it in this column.

The BCLS was formed in 1929 and is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.

Its objectives are as follows:

— Promote, protect and perpetuate fishing, hunting, trapping, firearms ownership, shooting sports and various forms of outdoor recreation.

— Promote the conservation of our natural resources, public access to them, and education as to the wise use of them.

— Foster good sportsmanship in the safe enjoyment of these great heritages.

— Advise state and federal legislators dealing with fish and game laws and wildlife management including propagation, distribution, regulations, license fees, law enforcement, conservation, public access to lands, elimination of pollution and the right to own and properly use firearms.

— Assist in organizing the sportsmen of Berkshire County into clubs such as the various town sportsmen's clubs, local Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited chapters, Beagle Club, BASS, Adam Outdoor for Youth, and so on.

— Contribute to and support work of the Massachusetts Sportsmen's Council (MSC) as a statewide organization working on behalf of outdoor sportsmen and women. MSC is the umbrella organization and legislative arm of all state county leagues, working on Beacon Hill.

— Foster cooperation with landowners and to support professional management of our fisheries, wildlife and other natural resources.

— Introduce and assist in passing laws that may favorably affect outdoor sports folk's objectives, and to oppose those that are deemed unwise or unfavorable to them.

The BCLS is an advocacy organization which is currently comprised of 13 organized sportsmen's clubs. Each club pays membership dues and sends delegates to the meetings. Currently, $85 of the BCLS fee is passed onto the MSC.

The BCLS currently represents over 4,000 organized sportsmen and sportswomen in Berkshire County. If one adds in their family household members and unaffiliated sportsmen and gun owners, it is estimated that the league represents just over 10% of the population of Berkshire County when it comes to conservation and the shooting sports. It supports over 30 local and national conservation organizations, as well as local after-school and church groups.

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It conducts monthly meetings — except in July and August. At each meeting, the current DFW Western District Manager (currently Andrew Madden) presents a report of their activities, such as land acquisitions, trout and pheasant stockings, regulation changes, eagle bandings, etc. Also at each meeting, our current state Fish & Game board member (currently Stephen Sears) presents a report on statewide activities. These are also opportunities for local sports folks to bring up issues with the DFW and the Fish & Game board.

Minutes are taken at each monthly meeting and are sent to the various club delegates along with the copy of the DFW report. The delegates in turn relay that info to their club members so that everyone is fully appraised of important information.

The BCLS is non-political and does not endorse any candidates but it does make its feelings known on any proposed legislation which affects them.

The BCLS provides the venue for MassWildlife staff when they come out to the Berkshires to speak to the public about various regulatory changes, and for GOAL to educate sportsmen about new gun regulations (instead of trying to meet at every club). If funds are available, BCLS also financially supports organizations such as the Berkshire Natural Resources, and other conservation minded organizations.

Each year the BCLS puts on the Silvio O. Conte Memorial Dinner, which is named in honor of our late U.S. Congressman, who was an avid sportsman in his own right. At this event the League honors various people and organizations for their work promoting our causes. The recipients don't have to be club members or hooks and bullet type people. In the past the League has honored the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, the Housatonic Valley Association, the Berkshire Environmental Action Council and college/school environmental educators, to name a few. The League believes that if the work that they do is so important, that they deserve to be recognized.

This banquet is also a major fundraiser for the year which helps to put on fishing annual derbies for at risk youth, send two kids to the state Junior Conservation Camp annually, send monies to the Mass Heritage Foundation and to maintain a defense fund which provides rewards to help catch lawbreakers.

League members are involved in hunter education courses, archery programs, Becoming an Outdoorswoman (BOW) programs, teaching trap and skeet shooting, and much more. It has a representative that are: On the Citizen's Coordinating Council (CCC) which is holding General Electric accountable for the removal of PCBs, the Zebra Mussel Committee, lake management committees, acid rain monitoring, river and mountain clean-ups, advocate for Housatonic River Catch and Release areas, coordinate courses for people wishing to obtain required gun permits, helping out in paraplegic hunts and involved in Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) designations. It has been involved with Earth Days, Farmers Bureau Habitat Restoration, Rough Grouse Society, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Isaac Walton League and others.

It is heavily involved with the National Archery in the Schools Program, in new legislation proposals, in the Open Space Bond Bill, is a watchdog of harmful legislation for the Environment, working with DFW, coordinating school kids stocking trout in some of our lakes, and promotes the Guns and Roses Coalition — where we join forces with non-hunting organizations but who are also involved in the conservation of our natural resources.

The League is kept busy, but it is a labor of love. If your outdoor sports club is not a member of the BCLS, you might want to consider joining.

Incidentally, the BCLS and the various outdoor sports clubs have always had a priority mission to get our youth into the outdoor sports. Unfortunately, the numbers of hunters has been declining of late, as has the number of young hunters taking up the sport. This probably comes as good news to some folks who are anti-hunters, but please consider this:

Financing for the purchase of wildlife management areas comes from sportsmen's license fees, federal and state duck stamps and an annual $5.00 self-imposed fee to be used for such purchases. Also, federal regulations such as the Pittman Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Act and the Dingell-Johnson Act impose excise taxes on all outdoor sporting goods purchases.

These taxes, which amount to hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide, are accumulated and administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, then they are apportioned to state wildlife agencies for their conservation efforts, hunter education programs, and operation of archery and shooting ranges. There are millions of dollars reserved for such projects in Massachusetts alone.

One does not have to be a mathematician to figure out that with a decline in the numbers of outdoors sportsmen and women, there is also a reduction of funds available to purchase and maintain those open spaces. Where do you suppose the future funds will come from to purchase future lands or maintain those that we already have? Just saying...

Fishing Derby

The Berkshire Hatchery Foundation in Hartsville-New Marlborough is having its next free children's fishing derby on Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at its lower pond. Children aged 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.

Gene Chauge can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com or 413-637-1818.


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