Tomorrow’s Hunting & Fishing – Part II

As mentioned last week, I have been picking the brains of folks whose job it is to figure out where our hunting and fishing is headed. I noted a number of changes that fishing pros are making to keep us enjoying our ocean and inland fishing – and to recruit more fishers of all ages out into fresh air and onto water.

This week’s focus is on hunting; the changes coming, and those we are already seeing.

You and I have, several times, looked at the impact of diminishing numbers of hunters across the country on wildlife management and habitat. Frances Stead Sellers’ recent (Feb. 2, 2020) article in the Washington Post laid the problem out pretty clearly. In the piece, titled “Hunting is ‘slowly dying off’ and that is creating a crisis for the nation’s many endangered species,” Sellers does a pretty good job of describing the role of the North American wildlife conservation model (established nearly 100 years ago) and its current challenges.

Sellers describes public lands as “a shared resource, open to an unlikely mix of hunters and hikers, birdwatchers and mountain bikers.” The users of these public lands are all in a symbiotic relationship, but that is a failing relationship given that “Americans’ interest in hunting is on the decline, cutting into funding for conservation, which stems largely from hunting licenses, permits and taxes on firearms, bows and other equipment. Even as more people are engaging in outdoor activities, hunting license sales have fallen from a peak of about 17 million in the early ’80s to 15 million last year, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The relationship between hunters and funding for wildlife conservation dates back to the determination of Theodore Roosevelt and many of his contemporaries who spoke out for putting money where the wildlife concerns were. Their efforts and persistence led eventually to the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R) in 1937. That Act placed an excise tax on the sale of firearms – and over time on other gear – to be apportioned each year to state wildlife agencies. Over time, the use of those funds has been approved for a broader array of conservation, including work on behalf of endangered species.

The current loss of hunters – and P-R funding – is hitting wildlife agencies hard. There have been several national calls for new conservation funding models, including a proposed new tax on outdoor gear beyond hunting, but so far they have met great resistance, and gone nowhere. Thus, more and more state wildlife agencies are asking legislatures to approve dollars from general funds, so that they might be able to continue the work they are charged with doing. The cost of managing wildlife and balancing predator-prey numbers and relationships is high, and hunters are increasingly unable to pay the tab.

Still, all may not be lost, As they look for new funding sources, virtually all states have stepped up recruitment and retention efforts to bolster hunter numbers. Here in Washington, Our Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has, with the support of various hunting and outdoor companies and groups, stepped up training and mentoring in a variety of hunting practices, including waterfowl, upland bird and wild turkey hunting. Basic Hunter Education courses are on the upswing. Virtually all the states around us are following Washington’s lead, and new hunters are finding their ways into ancient traditions.

We know that women hunters make up the fastest-growing segment of the fledgling attempts to restore hunter numbers. Virtually every western state (and many more across the country) now has at least one organization devoted to introducing women and girls to all aspects of the hunting and care of wildlife. Our Washington Outdoor Women (WOW) group has been a leader in these efforts. At the sportsmen shows over the last two to three years I have seen more young women and children than I remember seeing in decades. The shows are making women feel ever more welcome, with skilled female speakers, instructors, demonstrators and members who can speak to the unique needs and challenges of outdoor women.

More and more we are seeing young men and women (generally 18 to 40+ years of age) being drawn to hunting and harvest. Many of them are from families which do not have a tradition of hunting. They are being drawn in by hunting and shooting blogs and podcasts, and are feeling a need to return to a more natural responsibility for their food and relationship with the earth. The O’Loughlin group outdoor shows, particularly, have identified large numbers of these folks and have found ways to market to them with various social media tools and cable network shows. I was taken aback the last day of the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show in Portland, when I ran into a line of several hundred young men and women waiting to hear superstar Steve Rinella – a TV host and podcaster – talk about do-it-yourself hunting, game preparation and cooking.

Recruitment efforts are underway all across the country. Even with great success and large new numbers of hunters, we will likely need new funding models to ensure that we have wild things and wild places for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

We are in for some long and important discussions. Stand by…

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized