Wildlife Conservation Crisis Looms as Hunter Population Shrinks

Article excerpt

Farmland habitat, healthy forests and certain species of wildlife aren't all that are disappearing from the landscape. Hunters are becoming rare, too.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were 18 million hunters ages 16 and older in America in the early 1980s. There are about 12.5 million now, the fewest since 1970.

That could lead to a conservation crisis of national proportions. The "North American Model" of wildlife conservation says wildlife belongs to the public. But it relies on a small minority of that public -- namely, sportsmen -- to fund its care.

In Pennsylvania, for example, the Game Commission gets almost all of its money by selling hunting and fishing licenses. It gets no tax money from the state's general fund. The situation is much the same in every state.

So who would pay for conservation if America winds up with half as many hunters as three decades ago?

One answer might be the "superhunter." Delta Waterfowl, an international group of duck and goose hunters, believes the hunters of tomorrow will have to pay more for licenses, while turning into more active advocates for their sport.

"If we're going to maintain the things we need in hunting, which is conservation funding and a voice in the public, that's where the superhunter comes in," said Dan Nelson, editor of Delta Waterfowl's magazine. "We're going to have to get more out of them than we've gotten from the hunters of the past."

Recruiting enough hunters to replace those who leave would stave off money problems. Wildlife agencies across the country have created youth-only seasons, developed mentoring programs, and teamed with sportsmen's organizations to run classes aimed at introducing children and women to the outdoors.

No one knows yet whether any of those programs are balancing out hunting's losses. But Mark Damian Duda, president of Responsive Management, a Virginia-based outdoor recreation survey firm that will study the issue over the next two years, has doubts. …