Author: Cassie Gasaway
COVID-19 hit North America hard in March 2020, and it’s here indefinitely. The coronavirus changed our world, including how the outdoor industry meets to discuss projects, make decisions, and create initiatives. As organizations shift from in-person events to virtual gatherings, ATA staff keep advocating on behalf of all ATA members, regardless of the circumstances.
Dan Forster, ATA’s vice president and chief conservation officer, explained the transition.
“The reality is that you can’t meet in person,” he said. “Therefore, you have two options: You hit the pause button or find a work-around. Hitting ‘pause’ is not a strategy anyone in our community wants to adopt, so the next question is, ‘How do we continue to move forward given the circumstances?’ You pivot.”
Forster said we don’t want to stop positive momentum, so the industry turned to technology. The industry’s last in-person event was the North American Wildlife Natural Resources Conference in March, which included meetings of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ state members. Since then, the regional fish and wildlife agency associations — the Western, Midwest, Northeast and Southeast groups — canceled in-person events, as did most organizations nationwide. Many of them, including AFWA, have or will soon host virtual conferences.
The Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies held the industry’s first virtual event July 8-10 and 13-14 with meetings and presentations. They discussed federal legislative initiatives like the recently passed Great American Outdoors Act, which funds many public-land projects and programs into perpetuity. Association leaders also discussed updated guidelines for multi-state grant-funded proposals through the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act, which lets state agencies pool and use federal funds to promote hunting.
Forster said the virtual meetings helped organizations continue making policy, budget and management decisions that keep the industry moving forward. He also said conference goals and agendas still look the same as previous in-person events. The only change was the setting.
“Virtual forums allow the industry and organizations to perform key functions and formalize important decisions,” Forster said. “It’s business as usual, except we’re meeting in a new, somewhat confining environment. We’re missing the ancillary discussions and detailed relationship-building conversations of in-person events, but we’re making do.”
Your ATA will continue to host virtual meetings and webinars. Photo Credit: ATA
Although virtual meetings are prone to technical issues, and limit interactions and conversations, they cost less (no flights or hotel rooms), which lets more people “attend.” Virtual meetings aren’t ideal, but they’re productive and get the job done.
Forster said people understand the circumstances, and take advantage of the alternatives. “Folks are participating, learning on the fly, and modifying as they go,” he said. “There isn’t a template for hosting a virtual conference, so we’re all navigating this together.”
Forster and other ATA staff will attend and participate in upcoming virtual meetings to advocate for ATA members, and the archery and bowhunting industry.
The next two large virtual meetings are the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies 110th Annual Meeting, Sept. 9-11 and 14-15; and the Southeast Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Conference, Oct. 26-28.