Things were a lot different before the lawyers got involved. I realize this piece is going to make me sound like an old geezer, and in some ways I probably am.  But I have lived long enough to see how things have changed dramatically from what once was considered the norm and nobody thought anything about it.

I worry young people aren’t getting to experience some of those things which we have deemed “risky.”  Therefore, how can they ever be expected to fill the roles of those doing such work now?

I had a conversation this week with Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel. We were talking about his plans to create new trout stocking protocol and enhance the way fish are spread out in the streams via the put and take trout program. My article from earlier this week explains how they’ll hire some folks from the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities to help out in the area of trout stocking.

During our conversation I told McDaniel I could remember when I was in high school, the 1980’s, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries would let some of us get out of school to do the exact same thing. We would carry the fish and dump them. Let me emphasize what I just wrote.  They would let us out of school for a half-day or a whole day in the spring to walk along a riverbank. To this day, I can’t see the downside.

Of course in those days, things were a lot different. For starters, stocking was different. We didn’t have a lot of mountain streams where I lived which would stay cold long enough to support trout for any length of time.  So there weren’t a ton of stocking runs. We also had a trout season–meaning the stocking was done ahead of opening day and it was elbow to elbow when the fishing became legal. I didn’t really get the attraction of it in those days and never did go trout fishing. I was too busy chasing smallmouth below the riffles to pay much attention. But again, WE GOT OUT OF SCHOOL TO STOCK FISH.…STILL don’t see the downside.

I have no idea if they still allow high school boys to aid in trout stocking in Virginia. My guess is they don’t, since there’s always a chance somebody might slip, fall, get hurt, and file a lawsuit.

My dad used to talk about a program called K-V-G (Keep Virginia Green) when he was in high school. It was a state sponsored program which boys were let out of school to FIGHT FOREST FIRES!!! Oh man–that would have been a cool reason to miss school. Sadly, I tend to doubt the program is in existence today for obvious reasons. Lawyers and insurance assessors would have a field day with the danger associated with such activity.

McDaniel acknowledged he has to be quite careful with the folks from the Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management peering over his shoulder at almost ever idea.

So, as I started off, things were a lot different before the lawyers got involved.

I imagine there are a ton of strapping high school boys…and girls too…in West Virginia who could assist in the trout stocking schedule if allowed.  I figure they would jump a the chance, just like I did back in the 1980’s.  It would be good experience too. We need the next generation to become involved in these kinds of things, otherwise nobody is going to know what to do or how it works.

Why not create a wildlife and fish management program in our technical schools in the state. Technical schools in West Virginia are top notched. Two of my own kids are products of the programs. The work done there is stellar, unfortunately nobody is hearing about it. I’ll write about it another day because it needs to be spotlighted.

But, I believe a vocational wildlife and fisheries program would lay some ground work for teens to get on a path toward a career in game and fish management.  But if they don’t know what needs to be done and are never instructed how to do it, what is there to inspire them?   Such a program might entice them to work on a Wildlife Management Area or a National Forest, or as a hatchery operator. I’m not talking about just the managers, I mean the guys who feed the fish and do pump maintenance.  I’m talking about the guys who haul the fish to the stream and throw them into the water.  I’m talking about the guys who brush hog fields of Milo on a WMA for doves.  Those are good careers and eventually those positions will need to be filled. We need to make sure we have people to do them.

I admit, I haven’t checked, maybe there already is a program like this at the high school level. If so, fantastic, If not somebody call Kathy D’Antoni and suggest creating one.

Imagine learning how to do a controlled burn on a field from trained professionals and assisting them in doing it. How about learning how to do shuttle-wood cuts with a chainsaw so as to enhance wildlife habitat. We could show these teenagers how to properly care for trout as they are being stocked and teach them how to rear them from the hatcheries, to the raceways, to the trout stream. I’m daydreaming a curriculum for this program, but the idea is so exciting, I’m tempted to quit the radio business and register for the program myself.  I doubt 50 year old’s would be accepted, but you get the idea.

We need to stop over protecting high school students who are quite capable of a little hard work. Instead we should get them excited about how to make that kind of work a rewarding, life long career in the outdoors or in any other job for that matter.