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Fewer sportsmen and women means fewer dollars for wildife conservation

Luke Taylor assists Jesus Venzor, 11, from Fillmore Elementary School in Oklahoma City, as he tries bow fishing during the 2017 Wildlife Expo at the Lazy E Arena and Ranch in Guthrie. This year's annual Wildlife Expo is Sept. 28-29 at the Lazy E. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]
Luke Taylor assists Jesus Venzor, 11, from Fillmore Elementary School in Oklahoma City, as he tries bow fishing during the 2017 Wildlife Expo at the Lazy E Arena and Ranch in Guthrie. This year's annual Wildlife Expo is Sept. 28-29 at the Lazy E. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]

The annual Oklahoma Wildlife Expo will be Sept. 28-29 at the Lazy E Arena and Ranch in Guthrie.

When it began 15 years ago, one of the goals of the Wildlife Expo was to introduce the outdoors to newcomers who hopefully would become future hunters and anglers.

It’s worked better at retaining the state's hunters and anglers than creating new ones. Most of the people who attend the event, presented by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, are repeat customers.

Even if someone's interest in fishing or hunting is sparked by attending an event such as the Wildlife Expo, surveys show that spark is soon doused unless the person has someone willing to mentor them.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the future of hunting and fishing. Wildlife agencies and outdoor retailers have seen the demographics and are worried.

There are still plenty of people in Oklahoma and across the country who love to hunt and fish, but it’s mostly by people who are 45 and older. Far fewer younger people are experiencing the outdoors through fishing and hunting.

In 1991, there were almost 4 million people in the country from the ages of 25 to 34 who participated in hunting, according to the National Hunting and Fishing Survey.

The survey is conducted every five years, and in the most recent survey in 2016, the number of people in the United States in that age group who hunted was only 1.8 million.

There is a similar decline for ages 35 to 44. In 1991, almost 3.4 million people in that age group participated in hunting. In 2016, the total was down to just 1.6 million.

In 1991, 73.4 percent of all hunters were under the age of 45. In 2016, less than 47 percent of hunters were younger than 45.

Fishing faces a similar issue. In the last 25 years, the total number of people fishing has dropped by 1.2 million. In 1991, more than 75 percent of the people fishing were under the age of 45. In 2016, 52.4 percent of anglers were younger than 45.

Oklahoma's population of anglers and hunters are also mostly older, said Colin Berg, information and education supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Why should anyone care? Well, fewer people hunting and fishing means fewer people are protective of that way of life. Fewer hunters and anglers also means fewer dollars for wildlife conservation and wildlife management, at least under the national funding model that currently exists.

Money raised from federal excise taxes on sporting arms, ammunition and archery equipment is collected from manufacturers and apportioned each year to the states for wildlife conservation and management. It’s the same funding mechanism on the fishing side. An excise tax on items such as fishing gear is collected by the federal government and doled out to states for sport fish management.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is primarily funded through these federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration dollars.

In fiscal year 2018, the Wildlife Department received $24.47 million in federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration revenue. More than a third of its fiscal year 2018 operating budget of $66.18 million came from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funds.

The other major source of funding for the Wildlife Department is the sale of Oklahoma hunting and fishing licenses. The Wildlife Department is not funded via state tax revenue like other agencies.

Fewer hunters and anglers means fewer people buying licenses. Thus, if the decline continues, there might be a day in the future when the Wildlife Department either will need a state appropriation or be forced to reduce services.

Alarmed by the statistics, state wildlife departments across the country are putting together task forces and creation new positions to address the issues.

In Oklahoma, Kasie Joyner was hired as the Wildlife Department’s R3 coordinator. “R3” stands for retaining, recruiting and reactivating hunters. It’s a new position jointly funded through federal wildlife restoration funds and the National Wild Turkey Federation with a focus on the future.

She has a tough job trying to reverse the trend. Today's society is more urban and less rural than years ago. The rise in commercial hunting areas and the proliferation of landowners who lease their land for hunting means fewer opportunities for others.

The total number of participating hunters for all ages is down 2.6 million from the 1991 national survey, and the majority of those remaining are older than age 45.

"It is all due to the lack of passing the tradition,” Berg said. “I turn 50 this year. I’m not just taking my son (hunting), I’m taking his friends with us. To keep him hunting, he has to do it with his friends.

"So much has changed during my hunting and fishing career. We have become extremely protective of our hunting and fishing spots. Currently, it seems like we have more hunters than we have space, but my son (soon to be 16) is going to eventually be the one facing the issue which is we no longer have enough hunters and anglers for the North American Model of Fish and Wildlife Management to function properly.

“We all need to ask someone to go with us and pass the tradition on. It isn’t just a one-time invite. We need to ask them to go every time we go.”

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Oklahoma Wildlife Expo

What: More than 100 outdoor activities and booths including fishing, shotgun shooting, archery and more.

When: Saturday, Sept. 28, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 29, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Lazy E Arena & Ranch in Guthrie

Admission: Free

For more information: Go to wildlifedepartment.com/expo

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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