Clovis News: Sports

Outdoors clubs hit by slump

Quail Unlimited, an organization dedicated to preserving upland game birds, last week closed its national office and furloughed its remaining employees, leaving chapters like the one in Fresno uncertain of their future.

"We're in flux right now, but we don't intend to fold our tent," chapter Treasurer Oran McNeil said. "We're a dedicated bunch."

The demise of Quail Unlimited, based in Edgefield, S.C., is the latest example of how outdoors clubs and conservation organizations everywhere are struggling with the recession.

Some, though, are feeling the pinch differently.

For example, total donations raised during last week's annual California Waterfowl Association Fresno-Clovis dinner were 25% above last year, chapter Chairman Jeff Carroll said.

"Which really flies in the face of what's going on statewide and nationally," Carroll added. "All these different clubs and groups are competing for a shrinking pie."

Quail Unlimited didn't hold a fundraising banquet this year due in part to fears about the recession, Jeff Kimura said.

Kimura and another Fresno board member are planning to attend a meeting of the state's 14 chapters this weekend in Southern California to discuss their futures.

Options include forming a regional quail organization, joining a newly created club based in Missouri or waiting for a reconfigured Quail Unlimited to take shape, Kimura said.

Over the years, members have installed dozens of drinking-water receptacles for animals called "guzzlers" from the Panoche Valley to the Sierra Nevada, including one on Long Ridge above Redinger Lake in September. Some guzzlers even have cameras stationed nearby so biologists can tell which critters use them.

But finding money for conservation projects has been difficult.

"Everyone is struggling right now," Kimura said. "We've even lost some corporate sponsors because they went bankrupt."

Individual donations are also shrinking, said Carroll, whose club helps fund waterfowl habitat restoration throughout the state.

"People may cut the check from $100 to $25, but they still send it in because they realize how important those projects are," he said.

Some groups appear to be weathering the storm better than others.

Susan Turner, president of the Fresno County Sportsmen's Club, said membership swelled from 300 to more than 500 members since 2007. Also, the club's May swap meet was its most successful ever.

For $50 a year, members get access to the club's sprawling grounds along the San Joaquin River, including boat ramps, fishing ponds and camping.

Said Turner: "They get a big bang for that 50 bucks, which these days is pretty important."