• The future of hunting
    By Dennis Jensen Staff Writer | August 20,2006
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    CASTLETON — A coalition of hunters, educators, biologists, writers, youths, landowners, business-owners and wildlife biologists spent three days recently working on a plan for "The Future of Hunting in Vermont."

    The three-day event, sponsored by the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, focused on ways for the 55 people who attended to plan and bring about policies that will enhance the sport of hunting and find ways to attract more young people to the sport.

    National studies show a nationwide decline in the number of people participating in the hunting sports.

    Monika Linnenbrink, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, opened the first day's discussion by saying that license sales have been declining since 1987.

    "Hunter participation has been declining nationwide for the past 10 years," she said.

    That decline in numbers has a "negative effect on the funding for state fish and wildlife agencies," Linnenbrink said.

    Fewer hunters translates into fewer funds to pay for biologists, game wardens and other fish and wildlife workers to help maintain healthy populations of both non-game and game species, she said.

    Hunting, meanwhile, continues to have widespread support from the public, but that support could begin to drop off in the future, Linnenbrink said.

    "As participation declines, so does support for hunting," she said.

    "While 70 percent of Americans support hunting, only 10 percent actually participate in hunting," Linnenbrink said.

    Americans are most supportive of those who hunt for meat, according to Linnenbrink.

    "Support declines in hunter participation for recreational or trophy purposes," she said.

    Still, the news isn't all bad, particularly for Vermont sportsmen and women.

    In Vermont, Linnenbrink said, support for hunting is among the highest in the nation.

    "Supports for hunting is significantly higher than the national level," she said. "Eighty-eight percent of Vermonters approve and support hunting."

    Men are much more likely to support hunting than are women, even though a majority of both genders support hunting. About 85 percent of men support hunting, while about 65 percent of women do.

    Linnenbrink cited a number of factors which contribute to the decline in the number of hunters around the country. Those with the greatest impact include:

  • Loss of social support for hunting.

  • Lack of free time (work and family obligations).

  • Competition for free time.

  • Access to hunting land.

  • Transient nature of society.

    The youth dilemma

    If fish and wildlife agencies want to attract more youths to the hunting population, they face a formidable task, Linnenbrink said.

    There are simply too many distractions for youths today.

    "Kids spend 44 hours a week in front of TV, computers or with computer games," Linnenbrink said.

    Since one of the biggest goals of the session was finding ways to attract young hunters to the sport, the task facing the attendees was daunting, to say the least.

    Wayne Laroche, the commissioner for the department, said he believes the department is taking the right steps to reverse the trend of the decline of license sales.

    "We're trying to reduce the barriers for people wanting to get into hunting. We want to make it easier."

    One of the biggest obstacles facing the department now and in the years to come is the decline in revenue due to the decline in hunting license sales," Laroche said.

    In 1987, about 91,000 resident hunting and combination licenses were sold in Vermont. Only about 64,000 were sold in 2004.

    Non-resident hunting sales have also declined. In 1987, Vermont sold about 16,600 non-resident hunting licenses. In 2004, only about 8,000 were sold.

    Since hunting and fishing license sales are the primary source of funding for the Fish & Wildlife Department, the declines in sales are nothing short of alarming.

    "We're trying to reverse the decline in hunting license sales," Laroche said.

    There are a number of ways to reverse that decline, Laroche said.

    "We want to encourage people through youth programs, adjust the seasons, enlarge the (hunting) population, enlarge the (hunting) experience. All of that translates into licenses sold," he said.

    Maine leads the way

    Despite the fact that license sales are declining, Vermont has a large proportion of residents who hunt compared to other states, particularly in New England.

    According to the most recent data, from 2002, only Maine, with 15.3 percent of its population hunting, surpasses Vermont. The Green Mountain State comes in at 14.9 percent.

    The other New England States: Connecticut, 1.7 percent; Massachusetts, 1.1 percent; Rhode Island 1 percent.

    Despite the can-do attitude by those in attendance and the hope that the trend in the decline in hunting licenses can be reversed, one academic said a continual decline is inevitable.

    Jan Dizard, a professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts, said: "Try as we might, we're going to see a decline in hunters." But that doesn't mean that hunters should give up. He said that hunters must "reach out to other groups" for support of hunting in the future.

    While nothing concrete came out of the conference, the eight groups that hammered out proposals are scheduled to meet in the coming months to follow up on some of the major recommendations that were discussed.

    They were:

  • Expand hunting opportunities for young hunters.

  • Make the process easier for new hunters to enter the fold.

  • An incentive program for public teachers to teach wildlife conservation.

  • Better communications between landowners and the hunting public.

  • A broad-based coalition to work together to address wildlife-related issues.

    Mark Scott, one of the organizers of the conference, said group members would meet again, probably around March 2007, to discuss what progress has been made and what other issues they can pursue.

    "Vermont is a special place," he said. "It's not just the wildlife and the hunting, but it is the people. We're leaving on an optimistic note for the future of hunting in Vermont."

    Contact Dennis Jensen at dennis.jensen@rutlandherald.com
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