Article by Benjamin Cassidy, SCI Executive VP of International Government and Public Affairs
Published on 21 August 2023 on Linkedin
After a whirlwind week that found me in both Switzerland and Louisiana, I can tell you that the people in the Swiss alps and the Cajun bayou really aren’t all that different. The similarities actually go beyond the fact that some Swiss speak French and Cajuns speak some kind of French.
For starters, Safari Club International (SCI) has two of its premiere chapters in Switzerland’s Helvetia Chapter and Louisiana’s Acadiana Chapter. It was their respective banquets that took me to these far-flung locales. While it is an absolute honor representing SCI members from across the world in Washington, DC, trust me when I tell you that it’s GREAT to get out of our nation’s capital and spend time with real hunters!
Both events were great successes put on by strong local leaders and attended by hunting and conservation enthusiasts. If I were to close my eyes during either banquet, I would have a hard time telling you where I was. Regardless of location, hunters share the same passion to conserve what we love, are eager to take meaningful action and recognize the challenges we are up against.
SCI chapters are unique in that they send 30% of funds raised at their banquets to “the big I” (my employer), and keep the remaining 70% to put towards chapter projects and priorities.
The Helvetia Chapter, for example, has invested their resources in an amazing conservation project. The population of the iconic black grouse has taken a nose-dive in Switzerland. Spearheaded by chapter President Antoine Spillman, the Helvetia Chapter has responded by funding a project where goats are deployed in the mountains to eat up invasive plants that are destroying black grouse habitat. This is a long-term project but has already been showing great results. One of the big costs in the project is paying farmers to use their goats for this purpose. Many farmers do not want to risk losing their goats to wolves (the population density of wolves in Switzerland might even make a U.S. Westerner’s jaw drop). So the Helvetia Chapter has been paying farmers the cost of taking a goat to slaughter. Imagine that, hunters saving goats from the slaughter house (looking at you PETA!). This project is making a difference, and not just for hunters but for everybody who enjoys the natural beauty of the Swiss Alps. This is one of the many reasons that the Helvetia Chapter was recognized as SCI’s International Chapter of the year this past February in Nashville.
After returning from Gstaad, my wife asked me if I was going to be home the upcoming weekend. I responded that I was headed back on the road for a work event in Lafayette. She responded with a sly, “people don’t visit Cajun country for work, they visit for a good time!” This banquet turned out to be a great time. Let me tell you though, the work being done by the Acadiana Chapter is unmatched. In this case it isn’t through a conservation project, but through advocacy; in fact, they have set the standard for defending our hunting freedoms.
The Acadiana Chapter has put their money towards advocacy efforts by supporting the Hunter Action Fund (HAF). The HAF is SCI’s superPAC, raising and spending money to educate voters on where Congressional candidates stand on hunting policy. No other superPAC represents the hunter’s voice in federal elections with the same authority as the HAF. The track record shows it and is summed up well in this video featuring NRSC Chairman and past SCI Federal Legislator of the year Senator Steve Daines (MT). The Acadiana Chapter has continued to set the bar higher and higher for how chapters support HAF. They have steadily given generous contributions from their coffers and this year’s banquet was no exception. In fact, they presented me with the biggest one yet, ringing in at $30,000. This brings their total giving to HAF up to an unprecedented $135,000! The fight to defend our freedoms never stops and it’s support like Acadiana’s that keeps hunters in the fight. It is not surprise that their President, Richard Kennedy III, received the Ralph Cunningham Defender of Freedom Award on behalf of the chapter earlier this year at the HAF Luncheon & Auction in Nashville.
It is an honor to work with both the Helvetia and Acadiana Chapters. The shared mission and determination we have gives me optimism for the future of hunting and conservation. It is banquets like theirs that make the difference for ALL hunters. Don’t get me wrong, though. The banquets are also just a really good time.
Following the Helvetia Chapter’s successful banquet, I took a gondola down the mountain. Riding a cable in darkness can be disconcerting as you sway about, but overhead was the ultimate distraction… the Perseids Meteor shower. The shower was made even more impressive by the fact that Swiss homes throughout the Alps had cut their lights off to take in the spectacle of a truly dynamic sky.
In Louisiana, an attendee warned me in a Cajun accent, “don’t eat the food… you may never leave!” Well I managed to make it home the next day… well fed and energized by the new friendships I had made. I am grateful for nights like these. Nights that remind me that SCI just does it differently and is making the difference. Two great events for one great cause… the future of hunting and conservation!