As we learn and grow our outdoor skills each season, we must also teach and grow our community, recognizing one fundamental truth—the next generation of sportsmen and women may not look like us
This week, at the SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is sponsoring a workshop on the topic of cultural relevancy and being more inclusive of diverse audiences. Workshop leaders will explore, in other words, how we maintain hunting, angling, and outdoor recreation in a rapidly changing America.
This is a topic that every conservation organization is dealing with in one way or another. The future of our membership base depends on reaching new communities, and the future of conservation in America depends on our success.
According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), more than 37 million U.S. residents age 16 and older participated in hunting and/or fishing. Almost 12 million children from ages 6 to 15 also hunted and/or fished, making the overall number of hunters and anglers about 49 million. Collectively, sportsmen and women spent almost $90 billion to pursue those passions.
Every time we purchase fishing rods, tackle, motor boat fuel, guns, and ammunition, we pay a 10- or 11-percent federal excise tax that is returned to the states to pay for conservation. In 2011, excise taxes going toward sportfish restoration topped $667 million, and more than $484 million went to wildlife restoration.
Collectively, sportsmen and women provide 80 percent of funding for all wildlife species—not just the game and fish we like to pursue.
While overall hunting and fishing numbers have remained fairly stable over the last 20 years, the average hunter/angler is white, male, and getting older. Numerous federal and state studies show similar trend lines. Recognizing the long-term implications of these trends for hunting and fishing businesses, not to mention state and federal conservation efforts, many states and NGOs have launched initiatives to improve the recruitment, retention, and reactivation (collectively known as R3) of hunters and anglers.
By far the most significant is an effort by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) known as Take Me Fishing. The RBFF has also launched a parallel effort to engage Hispanics in boating and fishing with their Vamos a Pescar campaign, which is based on some simple demographic facts:
- There are 55 million Hispanics in the U.S., representing 17 percent of the U.S. population.
- Hispanics accounted for 48 percent of all population growth from 2012 to 2013.
- The Hispanic population is projected to reach 65 million (or 20 percent of the U.S. population) by 2020.
- The median age of Hispanics in the U.S. is 29, versus 43 years old for non-Hispanic whites.
- And 24 percent of kids under the age of 18 are Hispanic, while 26 percent of kids under 5 years old are Hispanic.
While the Hispanic population is one example, our community also needs to reach out to women, African Americans, Asian Americans, and others who are not a major part of the outdoor community today. We also need to get our kids away from screens and back outside.
One positive step is the effort to modernize the Pittman-Robertson program—the federal excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment—to allow a portion of what’s collected to be used for R3 activities, like Vamos a Pescar and Take Me Fishing. This is already possible on the fishing side, thanks to Dingell-Johnson legislation, but it’s not currently permitted with the P-R funds, although a bill is currently before Congress that would change this.
Beyond policy efforts, it is incumbent on all of us to welcome new constituencies into our community. We should be the ones—conservation professionals, like me, and license-carrying hunters and anglers, like you—to explain the role that hunters and anglers have played in making the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation a global success story. We need to welcome new faces to the campfire and help them understand that hunting and fishing, as well as the 640 million acres of public lands available for every American to enjoy, is our heritage and birthright.
Fundamentally, we must also embrace the idea that the next generation of sportsmen and women may not look like us. We can’t afford to be left behind.
Learn more about SHIFT here and the Cultural Relevancy Workshop here. And tune into a live feed of Steven Rinella’s keynote address, with a special Q&A session led by Whit Fosburgh, on TRCP’s Facebook page on Saturday, October 15, starting at 8:30 pm ET.