Actually, the title would be better, but longer, if I wrote, “Can Three Rs Save Hunting, Fishing, Trapping and Other Traditional Outdoor Activities?” Based both on the sales of licenses for activities, which requires a license and other polls, either expressed as actual numbers or as a percentage of the population, the above activities are on the decline across America.
Actually, one could add clam digging, wild berry picking, mushroom hunting and probably gopher roping and capturing summer fireflies are likewise on the decline. While there are few if any groups or agencies being affected by decreasing numbers of gopher ropers or mushroom pickers, state and federal management agencies which rely solely or partially on the sale of hunting, fishing or clam-digging licenses are worried. So they’ve mounted a nationwide effort called Three Rs — the Rs standing for Recruit, Retain and Reactivate.
The recruit part of 3Rs are efforts to get more people engaged in traditional outdoor activities. All active hunters, fishers and other outdoor recreationalists get started somehow or another. Often, it’s just following a family tradition. If your grandfather was a hunter, your dad a hunter, there’s a good chance you will at least be exposed to a hunting lifestyle. With fewer and fewer people participating, fewer people get their initial experiences through family ties. New methods to recruit outdoor enthusiasts are needed.
The retain part of 3Rs is based on the premise of falling numbers. If 100 people bought a license to hunt last year and only 90 people bought licenses this year, what happened? Did those 10 people who dropped out get too old? Did they have a poor experience last year? Did they lose the place they used to hunt? Did they take up golfing instead? These and other reasons exist and identifying and instituting programs, which eliminate or nullify many of these possibilities can keep active outdoorsmen active.
The third R is reactivate. While all three of the Rs are related, these last two go hand in hand. Reactivation efforts, however, specifically target former hunters, former firefly catchers and others who used to participate in traditional outdoor activities and develop programs to get lapsed outdoor people back in the game.
Reports from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed on a nationwide basis fishing (in the last couple years) has stabilized after a decade or more of annual declines. However, in some states the number of fishermen is still declining. California is the worst. In 1982 the number of fishing licenses sold in California peaked at 2 1/2 million. In 2018 that number had declined by 750 thousand.
Nation-wide, participation in hunting has dropped from 14.1 million hunters to a total of 11.5 million. Even more worrisome is this is in the face of an ever increasing human population. By the percentages, today, only about 5% of Americans, 16 years old and older, actually go hunting each year. That’s half of what the percentage was several decades ago when 10% of all American’s went hunting each season.
Worse from the fish and game management funding perspective, the amount of annual expenditures by hunter and fishermen declined by nearly 30 percent during the Obama years and his struggling economy. There’s an excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment. The funds from these taxes are apportioned to state fish and game agencies and make up a large part of their annual budget. Less spending on the retail level results in less tax revenue collected and less money for management agency budgets.
The Three R’s are an heroic effort, but it’s also important to recognize the reasons for the decline in hunting and fishing from state to state. In some cases there’s loss of easy access to places to hunt and fish. In other cases some species are declining, such as salmon along the West Coast and diseases like CWD in deer in the upper Midwest. A survey by Responsive Management found lack of free time, family and work obligations and lack of access to be the most common reasons why people give up hunting.
This is the Information Age when mass media has a very strong influence on people. Some people spend more time each day watching electronic screens than they spend away from them. This cuts into time spent outdoors and is related to increased anxiety, hypertension, obesity and drug addiction. Add to that, mainstream media including radio, TV and newspapers spend little if any space or time to covering traditional outdoor activities.
When the mainstream outlets do focus on traditional outdoor pursuits, all too often they focus on poachers, scandals and conflicts about trophy hunting, as well as tales of woe about wildlife crises and endangered species.
It’s hard to argue against the “Three Rs,” but is that all that’s needed?