Next week, ICAST, the largest fishing show on the planet, moves from the sweltering heat and humidity of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida to the confines of virtuality. Yep, it’s going virtual.
Instead of seeing old friends and touching new products, we’ll be navigating around show booths using our computer, phone or tablet.
While I’m not a fan of Orlando in the summertime (don’t write to criticize - I’ve lived there), I’m not certain next week’s event, even with all the ballyhoo surrounding it, will be anything like the analog version.
Despite the sweat, swelter and seemingly endless tramping through exhibition halls, there’s really nothing quite like a trade show to get you into the spirit of the sport.
Honestly, four months into whatever you want to call this situation, I’m feeling the need to see industry friends.
We don’t have many opportunities to get together every year, and the pandemic has robbed us of yet another “major”.
Ok, I “get” that you don’t really have to travel to Orlando to see new products, but there’s something about standing in lines and waiting for everything from your hotel check-in to your turn to be overcharged for mediocre dining that’s, well, comforting.
But there’s another thing that causes me to miss events. The non-profits of the outdoors are universally suffering.
Yesterday, I spoke to one CEO who told me that with the exception of a single fundraising dinner early in the year, they’d had zero fundraising opportunities. Today, he said, his job was keeping people engaged. Most of their supporters, he told me were more focused on “not losing their farms and businesses” than helping wildlife. And they were staring down the barrel of rapidly diminishing bank balances.
We’ve already reported on layoffs at non-profits. It’s not totally accurate to blame the pandemic for the problems with the National Rifle Association, but the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped. In a crucial election cycle, they look skeletal compared to other national election years.
The National Wild Turkey Federation has been open about their having laid-off staffers. They’re not unique, just more candid than others.
The only bright spot I see is Pittman-Robertson funding. As people have stocked up on guns and ammo, they’ve also contributed to wildlife conservation efforts. Ditto the money spent on fishing gear.
That’s a good thing, because many of the conservation affinity groups are looking at the equivalent of Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. They don’t have.
Both conservation-based hunting and ecotourism are as plentiful as dodo birds and carrier pigeons.
If the world doesn’t start traveling, it’s not a pretty picture down the road.
African nations are already feeling the impact in funding cuts with increased poaching or the opposite extreme -an overabundance of animals due to the loss of the checks-and-balances of hunting. The overabundance of elephants, for example, are playing havoc with crops.
Virtually all scientific field work- worldwide- has been stopped by the pandemic. Field work is essential to help focus the funds that are available. Like everyone else, wildlife biologists, scientists and researchers have been forced to the virtual world for their meetings. They’re accustomed to using technology to connect and collaborate- but from the field, not their offices.
This isn’t a long piece offering solutions. Many of the world’s medical experts and all the world’s politicians look more like Chicken Little than Jonas Salk or Marie Curie.
Politicians aren’t good at solutions in ideal conditions. Today, we’re as far from ideal as I’ve ever imagined (so are they). Medical research can’t move rapidly because of the regulations piled on them by - you guessed it- politicians and regulators.
Now, however, is the time for all of us to look for places where we can help, rather than simply offering criticism. My family has redirected the money we’d budgeted for dining out and recreational travel toward groups we know are still making a difference.
It’s not much, but if we all did a little, it could mean a lot.
Hey, it’s still the weekend. Get outside. Invite others to go with you.
We all need a dose of the natural. If you don’t believe me, go outside and see for yourself.
We’ll keep you posted.