Next time you look around and take a moment to appreciate the abundance of wildlife in our beautiful Central Valley, thank a hunter.
Though most folks may not realize it, there are legions of outdoorsmen looking out for nature, but they do it behind the scenes and without much fanfare.
And no, I'm not just talking about how hunters support wildlife through the purchase of licenses, tags, etc. I'm talking about those who actively give their time and money to protect what they love.
A prime example of that was recognized recently when Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, presented a national award to local hunter Dennis Campini for his work to conserve and protect nature. The presentation took place in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.
Campini accepted the North American Migratory Bird Joint Ventures' Conservation Champion Award on behalf of many others who are part of the Grassland Resource Conservation District -- a network of folks who aim to conserve migratory birds and their habitats.
The Merced County-based group is comprised of 162 private duck clubs and more than 2,000 member hunters. The district covers 75,000 acres of wetlands, riparian areas and upland game habitat.
Campini, who's president of the Grassland Resource Conservation District, said the area is home to some of the world's richest concentrations of waterfowl and shorebirds, and added that the county's Grasslands Ecological Area is the largest continuous section of wetland west of the Mississippi River.
His organization works to preserve habitat through plant and water management.
Hunting is what makes it all possible, Campini said.
"If it wasn't for the hunter, we wouldn't have a lot of what we have," he said.
Cardoza agrees that sportsmen play an integral role in protecting wildlife and habitat, two valuable resources bestowed upon the Central Valley by Mother Nature.
"I've been told that Merced County is the Yosemite of wetlands and grasslands," said Cardoza, who occasionally goes pheasant hunting and has also participated in Ducks Unlimited events.
Campini and those around him who work so hard to protect what's really important deserve a big "thank you" not only from fellow hunters, but from anyone who appreciates nature.
We've all heard of those non-official holidays, such as "Hug a Writer Day" and "Hug a Veteran Day" -- maybe it's time for a "Hug a Hunter Day."
Actually, nah, "thanks" would probably suffice.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.