By Mark Rhodes, Idaho Fish and Game District Conservation Officer
In 2010, the Idaho Conservation Officer's Association (ICOA), in partnership with Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), conducted their first annual Youth Conservation Camp in Cascade, Idaho. The vision behind the camp was to expose kids to a whole bunch of outdoor recreation activities, including shooting, archery, fishing, trapping, hiking, and basic conservation.
We not only hoped to instill a conservation ethic in these young people, but also hoped to build a sense of ownership and connection to Fish and Game and Idaho Conservation Officers amongst Idaho's future sportsmen and women.
The first couple of years proved to be a bit of a struggle to find 30 interested and willing kids. During a couple of the years we were still trying to fill the camp in July, four months after applications became available to the public. Now, we are in 2016 and preparing for the 7th year of the camp. We have expanded the camp to 45 campers, and registration slots filled in 18 days. The camp has become extremely popular because the kids that attend tell their friends and families, and the next year more kids want to attend.
The growth in interest and participation in the camp has been a wonderful development, but one of the unforeseen positive benefits of camp has been the interest and participation by recreational and conservation groups and clubs from around the state, and the relationships being built between the clubs and their local Conservation Officers.
Too often there are instances where Conservation Clubs or Sportsman's Groups are at odds with each other, or with IDFG, due to differing philosophies or priorities about management, hunting or fishing methods, or harvest regulations. The ICOA Camp appears to have provided something that everyone agrees is valuable and beneficial for young people, and for Idaho.