Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Fewer hunters means less funding for wildlife conservation

Tyler Hasheider (center) teaches new hunters how to clean a deer in the field. (NPR photo by Nathan Rott)
State and federal government agencies get about 60 percent of their conservation funding from hunting-license fees and excise taxes on guns, ammunition and fishing equipment; such a system has helped restore populations of some game animals that were once hunted nearly to extinction. But a new survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that today, only about 5 percent of Americans, 16 years old and older, actually hunt. That's half of what it was 50 years ago and the decline is expected to accelerate over the next decade," Nathan Rott reports for NPR.

Wildlife agencies are trying to find other sources of revenue, such as taxing oil and gas revenues, general sales taxes, or tweaks to the license-and-equipment funding system to monetize such activities as wildlife viewing. That last one could prove lucrative, since activities like bird watching, hiking and wildlife photography have become more popular in recent years.

Whatever solution state and federal agencies find, it needs to be fast. "A panel on sustaining America's fish and wildlife resources recently warned: 'Without a change in the way we finance fish and wildlife conservation, we can expect the list of federally threatened and endangered species to grow from nearly 1,600 species today to perhaps thousands more in the future,'" Rott reports.

Reasons for the decline in hunting include increased urbanization, restricted access to hunting areas, lack of free time, and youth spending more time with team sports or video games. But Keith Warnke, Wisconsin's hunting and shooting sports coordinator, said the biggest factor is demographics: at 65, the average hunter stops buying licenses and hunting. That's a problem because nearly a third of all hunters are Baby Boomers. The oldest boomers have aged out of hunting and the youngest, at 54, will join them soon. State wildlife agencies are advertising to try to bring in a new generation of hunters. "In Wisconsin, they're offering free classes on college campuses, teaching hunter's safety and hands on butchering clinics, with the goal of capitalizing on the locavore movement and a renewed interest in wild meat," Rott reports.

The good news is that public support for both hunting and wildlife conservation remains high, and the number of people who say they enjoy outdoor recreation is increasing, so solutions may be possible. "We need to find ways for the rest of those folks, who are canoeing and cross country skiing and biking and going to the park to contribute as well," said Mary Jean Huston, director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin.

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