Photo: Jeff Sullivan via Flickr
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Photo: Jeff Sullivan via Flickr
An Aspiring Hunter Reflects on Potential Barriers to Recruiting New Sportsmen and Women
Whenever I tell people that I grew up in Montana, the first question I’m always asked is whether I hunt.
Up until this year, I’ve always sheepishly answered “no,” thinking that my reply in the negative would undermine my credibility as a Westerner.
Growing up at the base of the Rocky Mountains, I was surrounded by big antlers on the wall, game meat on the table, and camo attire at weddings and funerals. But I didn’t hunt.
I was intimidated by the sport. I didn’t have anyone in my family who could teach me. I didn’t own a gun. I didn’t have any of the right gear. I didn’t know how to get a license or what I might need one for.
But I knew I needed to learn when I began working at TRCP. If I wanted to talk the talk, I had to walk the walk. And with an office full of potential mentors, there was no excuse not to give it a shot.
After asking a few of my co-workers how to get started, I discovered I could take a online hunter education course, which would then allow me to purchase a hunting license in any state.
Given my current residence in Washington D.C., I signed up for the Maryland web course, which took about four hours to complete. After passing the online portion, I had to spend an afternoon at a face-to-face class where an instructor would teach us how to handle a firearm, identify ethical shots, and navigate the complexities of landowner permission.
It sounds relatively easy, but there were several barriers that needlessly frustrated the process. And, because I know the statistics surrounding hunting’s declining rates of participation, they troubled me.
For instance, because there were no opportunities to take the class near my apartment in the city, I had to rent a car and drive three hours to complete my certification. Meanwhile, the location of the course had been moved and I had no way of knowing until I showed up to the wrong building, just 10 minutes before the class was supposed to begin. The change in venue might not have been a big deal to someone familiar with the local community or who hadn’t needed to carefully plan their travel that day, but for me it presented another hurdle that could have been easily avoided.
When I arrived late, I was one of two female students in a class of 20 led by all male instructors. One man, clearly amused by the D.C. license plate on my car, asked “Why would a city girl come all the way up here to learn how to hunt?” Another man quipped, “Don’t hold that gun like you’re scared of it.” While not intended to be mean-spirited, these words and others throughout the day clearly implied that I was out of place.
These challenges did not stop me from passing the course, but I can imagine for some they might. How would a prospective new hunter without easy access to transportation get there? Can we make it easier to reach new hunters where they might be found? How would someone with less self-confidence respond when they walk into that room or when they encounter skeptical gazes and teasing? Can we find ways to understand how underrepresented groups might feel as they learn about hunting?
We have to ask ourselves these questions as we watch the number of hunters decline year after year.
Thankfully, at the end of 2019 Congress took a major step forward in addressing some of these problems. They passed the bipartisan Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act allowing excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to be used to improve the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters.
As this law gets implemented, states should take a hard look at the hurdles that people have to jump over and work to address them so more people feel comfortable learning about the sport and joining our community. Reversing the trend of declining participation will require us to think seriously about what we can do better to make hunting more accessible to all, no matter where they live or what they look like.
This blog is part one is a series. Tune in next week to hear more about Marnee’s bird hunting adventure.
Joel Webster, Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands joins Dave and Nephi on Your Mountain Podcast to talk about public land access. Specifically, they discuss TRCP’s work with OnX to identify and map the 6.35 million acres of public lands in the West that have no permanent, public access. Topics include: the history of TRCP; the importance of access to the future of hunting; corner crossing; successful existing access partnerships with landowners; ideas for increasing access; Joel’s mountain; and so much more.
As the New Year gets underway, here’s a look back at last year’s biggest moments for fish and wildlife
Last year sportsmen and women spoke out meaningfully on the issues that matter most, and thanks to your actions and the actions of our 60 partners we secured some key victories for conservation funding, fish and wildlife habitat, and sporting access.
Top photo: USFWS Mountain Prairie
An ambitious infrastructure project promises relief for the Caloosahatchee River system and new opportunities for sportsmen and women
The Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida has long been troubled by erratic changes in water quality and quantity. A wet summer season brings too much water, while drier times of the year bring too little, and changes in salinity for extended periods of time put the system under great stress. Adding to these problems are excessive loads of nutrients entering the water due to changes in land-use and an ever-increasing human population.
In recent years, these problems have resulted in a large-scale loss of sea grass beds, which in turn affected the local fishery and anglers’ opportunities to chase snook, redfish, and trout.
But thanks to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and collaborative efforts by resource managers, conservationists, and local and state officials, a solution is on the way that will restore habitat, improve water quality, and boost opportunities for sportsmen and women.
Originally the Caloosahatchee drained a basin west of Lake Okeechobee and was fed by rainfall and springs in the region. In the 1880s, however, a canal connecting the river to Lake Okeechobee resulted in a permanent change in the hydrology of the system.
Continued population growth and changes in land use continued over time until the system reached a breaking point. Frequent algae blooms and a recent outbreak of blue-green algae now represent a threat to domestic animals as well as fish and wildlife, and may also pose a health risk to people.
In addition to water quality concerns, sustained periods of very high or very low flows of freshwater result in stress on sea grasses and other marine life. In recent years this produced a large-scale loss of sea grass beds. With the loss of sea grass the local fishery suffers, and opportunities for anglers to enjoy snook, redfish, and trout have diminished.
A solution to these problems started to take shape in 2015, when construction began on the C-43 West Basin Reservoir. When completed, this reservoir, located adjacent to the Caloosahatchee, will span nearly 11,000 acres and provide the capacity to store 170,000 acre-feet of water.
Stormwater runoff and releases from Lake Okeechobee would be stored in the reservoir and released to replicate historic flows in the system. An added benefit will be the reduction in sediment and nutrient loads entering the river and estuary. In addition, a water quality component is being developed while construction is underway. Restored sea grass and filter feeding organisms will also help to improve water quality in the river and estuary.
Major partners in the project include the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction funding is being provided by the state with operations and maintenance shared jointly by the federal and state governments.
The project has received support at the highest levels, including the Florida state legislature, the Florida congressional delegation, and Governor Ron DeSantis, who visited the site on October 25, 2019, for the initiation of work on the 15 miles of perimeter canals and 19 miles of embankments needed to complete the project. Overall construction is expected to be completed in 2022.
The finished reservoir will provide resource managers with the ability to regulate water quantity and quality in the Caloosahatchee River, San Carlos Bay, and the greater Caloosahatchee estuary. This capability will in turn mitigate potentially harmful releases of water from Lake Okeechobee and allow the lake’s water levels to be managed more flexibly. These measures will help to improve sea grass beds, a valuable marine fishery, and provide more recreational opportunity to fish for trout, redfish, and snook.
While the project’s fundamental purpose is to benefit the river and estuary, the reservoir and perimeter canals will provide new angling opportunities since funding has been included for a recreational component to the project. Anglers will be able to use boat ramps and fish the perimeter canals once the reservoir is operational and fish populations have become established.
All told, this project will be a big win for sportsmen and women and a great example of how conservation partnerships can produce healthy habitat and clean water, as well as the hunting and fishing opportunities that go with them.
Jon Andrew is the Florida outreach coordinator for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. He is recently retired from a 35-year career as a biologist and refuge manager with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, where he eventually became responsible for management of all refuge lands in the southeastern U.S. and Caribbean. In his spare time, he enjoys saltwater flyfishing and poling his skiff in the shallow waters along the southwest Florida coast in search of snook.
Top photo: South Florida Water Management District
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More