Msg 1 Posted: 07:50 AM 02/22/07 (CST)
A good article by Babe...|
Declining fishing, hunting participation hurts conservation
by Babe Winkelman
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 21st, 2007 04:28:20 PM
I make my home in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes and sky-blue waters. Fishing here is akin to religion. My home state has 1.1 million anglers, and the May walleye opener is a celebration that has few rivals.
Fishing is also big, big business in Minnesota, as well as across the nation. Millions and millions of dollars are contributed by Minnesota anglers in the form of license fees and fishing equipment purchases every year. In turn, a percentage of those dollars either from license sales or excise taxes paid on fishing equipment are funneled back into the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for fisheries management programs.
The same is true in other states.
My point here is that fisheries participation and fisheries management are attached at the hip. Anglers foot the fisheries management bill, in Minnesota and elsewhere.
That's why it is disturbing to read a story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about a new Minnesota DNR study that shows, according to the piece, that the "percentage of Minnesotans ages 16 to 44 who bought fishing licenses declined 11 percent from 2000 to 2005."
According to the story, "Minnesota's population in the same category, however, grew by a half percent during the same period.
"We're concerned about it and concerned about an important tradition in our state," said Dave Schad, director of the Minnesota DNR's Fish and Wildlife Division, in the story.
Schad, I guarantee you, is not alone. Game and fish managers in most states are worried about the decline in angling and hunting participation rates the best measurement of future participation in both pastimes as the baby boomer generation grows older and older.
Ryan Bronson is the hunting recruitment and retention coordinator for the Minnesota DNR. He quoted a U.S. Fish and Wildlife study from 1991-2001 that showed the national participation rate of hunters and anglers dropped "31 and 32 percent respectively for Americans ages 16 to 24."
"It's a very troubling trend," he said. Indeed it is.
The bottom line here is that not only are fewer and fewer kids hunting and fishing, but it also appears that more and more young adults are leaving both sports. And those young adults are oftentimes the folks who introduce kids to hunting and fishing.
Bronson says the DNR is planning a recruiting campaign to bring more hunters and anglers into the fold in Minnesota. Other states are doing the same.
In fact, state agencies have been ramping up their recruiting-and-retention programs for the last decade, perhaps longer. Most states offer myriad special youth hunts, from waterfowl to big game to upland birds. In addition, many states have special youth fishing programs, in urban and rural settings alike, in which kids are taught the finer points of fishing and how to use the requisite equipment.
Youth opportunities abound
While I'm sure those programs have helped hunting and fishing recruitment, the hard numbers suggest we're not keeping near enough kids interested for the long-term. In other words, we need to increase retention.
Increased urbanization, high divorce rates, the current video game culture and other societal factors all play a role in low retention rates, wildlife officials say.
"Access to quality hunting lands is a big problem in Minnesota and other states," said Bronson of the Minnesota DNR. "It's difficult to retain youth hunters if they have a couple of bad experiences."
What's the solution? According to Bronson, one word: marketing.
Marketing isn't a word that you thrown around very often within state game and fish agencies. After all, state agencies are filled with biologists, managers and, to a lesser degree, communications specialists. But marketing specialists? I'd say they're few and far between.
Here's the truth: If states like Minnesota (and others) want to mount a marketing campaign to increase the ranks of hunters and fishers, then they need to reach out to the business community and tap the people who really understand how to market a product in this case, the outdoors.
But serious marketing requires serious dollars, Bronson said, and most state game and fish agencies are strapped for cash. Perhaps the sporting goods industry, the shooting industry and our nation's conservation and environmental groups all of which have a vested interest in recruiting and retaining hunters and anglers can pool their resources for the greater good.
It's certainly worth a try. At the very least, we need to have a discussion about it. The alternative is the status quo: the slow, steady decline in hunting and fishing participation rates, which, of course, translates into less management of our natural resources.
And no one wants that.
Babe Winkelman is a nationally known outdoorsman who has been teaching people to fish and hunt for 25 years. Watch his award-winning "Good Fishing" television show on WGN-TV, Fox Sports Net, The Men's Channel, Great American Country Network and The Sportsman's Channel. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times.