MINNEAPOLIS -- Contrary to the surge in hunting and fishing during the coronavirus pandemic, Minnesota's wildlife conservation groups are retrenching to cope with a fundraising crisis.
The National Wild Turkey Federation laid off 51 employees recently as a consequence of COVID-19. Staff cuts have hit other groups to a lesser degree, and they're all scrambling to replace revenue lost in the mass cancellations of spring membership banquets. For charities devoted to outdoor causes, those gatherings provide a mother lode of revenue.
"We're talking millions of dollars that are not being raised," said Tom Glines, director of development in the Upper Midwest for the turkey federation. "We're trying to control costs everywhere so we can keep the lights on and the doors open."
Turkey hunting in Minnesota was up 30% this year, but Glines said restrictions against traditional group fundraising events wiped out the source of 60% to 75% of the federation's income. Across the country, COVID-19 restrictions canceled half of its spring banquets.
"Without those group functions it really ties our hands," he said.
Moreover, Glines and other conservation group leaders say the bleeding will continue until health officials deem it safe again for people to gather inside by the hundreds.
"At this point ... we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel," Glines said.
Kyle Momsen, regional director in Alexandria, Minn., for Ducks Unlimited (DU), said the damage to conservation groups was immediate because most live hand to mouth. Attempts to replace the banquets with various online events held via Zoom, Facebook and other platforms have fallen short.
"We're not sitting on some big endowment," Momsen said. "We spend all of our money as it comes in."
Momsen said certain Minnesota DU chapters have experimented with live online auctions in which participants bid using the chat box on their computer screens. There's been other virtual gatherings, too, like the 34th annual "banquet" on Zoom, hosted by Buffalo Ducks Unlimited. Adults paid $60, and the amount of money that would normally go for a meal was used to buy door prizes that were given away.