Many of us buy a hunting or fishing license and feel we’ve done enough to support our state’s wildlife resources. Some join a local outdoor club to be part of a group with common interests, counting on club officials to deal with conservation issues.
Some attend fundraisers, feeling pretty good knowing that their cash will be used for habitat improvements and some local pro-sportsmen’s activities. That ought to be enough.
Then there are those that join those state and national conservation clubs and are very active in their endeavors, helping with habitat plantings, banquets, auctions, special hunts for youth, women and the mobility impaired.
Now, surely, these folks are going above and beyond.
There was a time when I would have agreed with all of this. In fact, I’ve been all of those people “¦ but none of it is enough anymore.
Our nation’s demographics have changed. According to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation.
Millennials, generally defined as those ages 20-36, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomers (ages 53-71). Generation X (ages 37-52) is projected to pass the boomers by 2028.
What does all that have to do with wildlife conservation? For one thing, hunting-license sales have been slipping on a national basis since their peak in 1982, losing 2.2 million hunters between 2011 and 2016 alone.
Is this a result of people turning against hunting? Could it be that these younger generations are no longer interested in wildlife and conservation?
Is there a possibility that it’s a lot more complicated?
Nationally, about a third of all hunters are boomers, which means that the oldest have already crossed the threshold for aging out. In just 15 years, most will no longer be buying licenses and the license model of funding conservation will be hurting.
Now, some agencies, like the current Ohio Department of Natural Resources leadership, may see this as an opportunity to force political change in which sportsmen’s license fees can be gobbled up inside the state’s budget.
The result would be the politicization of professional wildlife and fish management with seasons potentially altered, suspended or opened to better influence election results than to safeguard our resources. We each must be ready to combat such efforts.
If you think that you can just buy that license and that ensures that your hunting heritage will be there for your great-grandkids, you’re wrong. It’s time for each of us to get involved in the entire process.
One of the latest concepts is the R3 programs being touted around the country. It stands for “Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation.” It points out the necessity to reach out to the younger generations, especially those that may not have a family history in which hunting and fishing was a regular activity.
The problem is that those boomers, who are potentially some of the best teachers, don’t dress like them, don’t look like them and don’t understand what motivates their desire to hunt and fish. Studies have shown that there are aspirations among the “hipster” class to be out there in the fields, but they have different ideologies. They aren’t farm kids learning the outdoor ropes from dad and grandpa; rather, they want to attack it as an independent thinker.
They want to study the art of hunting and fishing, and they are most likely to attend specialized training seminars, explore the cultural and natural impact of the hunt and examine the nutritious nature of eating “free-range” meats collected from the back 40 like they would shopping for vegetables at a farmer’s market. They are also electronically connected.
If you think hunter-education courses are the answer, they aren’t. They’re designed to address safety and conservation concepts, not mentorship. While these courses aren’t necessarily a barrier, they can sometimes prove to be a bottleneck. Many agencies have updated the training process and redesigned portions for these new-gen thinkers.
How do we turn those plummeting participation numbers around? The R3 projects are just a new approach to an old problem. No agency can create a program that will cure these ills without you. If just 30 percent of the 11.5 million individuals who hunted in 2016 create one new hunter, we could solve the problem in one year.
Unfortunately, we tend to want to take the kid who’s predisposed to hunt. Maybe it’s our own child or grandchild who’s been watching us waltzing around with rod and gun or the neighbor kid who has shown an interest in joining in.
While this is all admirable and necessary, more is required.
Hunters and fishermen need to be less selfish with our haunts and be willing to share our happy hunting and fishing grounds. There are a couple of other problems to overcome.
Recruitment takes time. It may well take four years to mentor a newbie. You will need to commit to support the skill building and earn their trust to develop that new license buyer.
The other issue? That future sportsmen may not look like you or live like you. They may be a different color. They may have never set foot on a farm, owned a dog or been in a boat. They may not be a sports-man, but rather a sports-woman.
Where to search for someone to mentor? Young adult populations from college students on up have time and money, have solidified socially and exhibit the motivation. They also want to feel the whisper of the spiritual in the adventure, something you and I know well.
The only real requirement is that it’s someone with whom you enjoy spending time. Friends can defy age and age does not have a lock on knowledge — those hipsters have a lot to teach you, too. At the very least, they can synchronize your phone with your car; at most, you may have a new close friend.
As wildlife enthusiasts, we love the outdoors. The bad news is that we aren’t going to be here forever. Pass along that love and allow it to linger with others as they carry your memory to the fields and streams.
“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” — Robert Frost
Along the way:
Join the Arbor Day Foundation in February and receive 10 free Norway spruce trees or 10 free redbud trees to plant when the weather warms.
“These trees will help beautify your home for many years to come,” said Matt Harris, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation. These fast-growing selections can also be useful for fortifying a windbreak and improving wildlife habitat.
The 6- to 12-inch trees will be shipped between March 1 and May 31 and are guaranteed to grow, or they will be replaced free of charge. Members receive a subscription to the Foundation’s bimonthly publication, Arbor Day, and The Tree Book, which contains information about planting and care.
Send a $10 contribution to Ten Free Norway Spruce Trees or Ten Free Eastern Redbud Trees, Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410, by Feb. 28, or visit arborday.org/february.
• Today: Sportsman’s day, Heritage Christian Union Church, 15738 Ohio 37, Forest. Enjoy vendors, displays, dinner and door prizes. Doors open at 10:30 a.m., seminars run from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Music and presentation follow, then prizes will be drawn. Must be in attendance to win.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Feb. 22: Pint Night, hosted by Sportsmen’s Alliance, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., North High Brewing Company, 1288 N. High St., Columbus. Good beer, good company and good discussion about how hunters, anglers and trappers can protect your passions.
• Feb. 24: Ohio Bluebird Society Conference, Grange Insurance Audubon Center, 505 W. Whittier St., Columbus. Speakers include Jim McCormac, Bet Zimmerman, and Keith Kridler. Information and registration: www.ohiobluebirdsociety.org.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at email@example.com.