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Guest Editorial: Challenges to future of hunting, fishing need to be addressed

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opinion Perham, 56573
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Minnesota has a strong history of hunting and fishing traditions that runs through generations of families.

Imagine this region without our lakes, without ample hunting opportunities, without anglers out year-round, hoping to hook the big one.

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It’s a depressing thought.

Yet, it could happen, slowly, if the number of hunting and fishing enthusiasts continues to dwindle; if fewer generations pass on the fulfilling outdoor traditions that make our lakes, wildlife and outdoor amenities so special.

These traditions don’t run on auto-pilot and are something we should not take for granted. There is cause for concern.

Minnesota’s hunting and fishing tradition is facing unprecedented demographic challenges that will require new approaches to address declines in participation rates, according to a new report compiled by a panel of hunting and fishing stakeholders convened by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance (MOHA).

“Minnesota is in the enviable position of having hunting and angling participation rates double the national average,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “Yet challenges are ahead. That’s because young Minnesotans aren’t hunting and fishing at the levels of previous generations, long-time baby boomer hunters and anglers are destined to drop out, and future population growth will be driven largely by ethnic cultures that do not have long-held Minnesota-based hunting and fishing traditions.”

There’s more at stake here than traditions. Hunting and fishing are important to the state’s economy.

Hunters and anglers spend $3.3 billion within and outside of Minnesota, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey. Hunting and fishing also support 48,000 Minnesota jobs and the additional benefits of connecting people with nature, promoting conservation and providing healthy outdoor exercise.

About 28 percent of Minnesotans age 16 and older fish; 12 percent hunt. Since 2000, Minnesota has experienced a 12 percent decline in hunting and fishing license rates even though population has grown from 4.9 to 5.3 million.

The panel convened by Landwehr and MOHA is called the Commissioner’s Council on Hunting and Angling Recruitment and Retention. It met several times in 2013 and issued a report of its findings last week. Among its conclusions:

-It’s in the best interest of Minnesota to sustain hunters and anglers as they support land, water and species conservation through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and are advocates for major environmental initiatives, including the 2008 Legacy Amendment.

-Government and stakeholders must adapt to an unprecedented generational challenge as baby boomers, who have had high participation rates, become less active.

-The hunting and angling community must adapt to an emerging race/ethnicity challenge that may make recruiting hunters and anglers more difficult.

-The social processes necessary to recruit and retain hunters and anglers need to be better understood by those who seek to create the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts. Barriers to development of hunters and anglers need to be better understood and addressed.

-More rigor needs to be applied to recruitment and retention program evaluation so that outcomes can be measured more accurately.

The council recommended seven actions.

Recruitment recommendations included: developing and supporting after school clubs for youth; an “I am a hunter/angler” marketing campaign aimed at young adults; learn to hunt and fish workshops for young adults; and family-oriented hunting and fishing awareness and skill workshop events.

Retention recommendations included: creating a web-based clearing house for hunting and fishing information targeted at young adults; a reverse mentoring campaign that encourages younger hunters and anglers to hunt and fish with older hunters and anglers who otherwise may drop out; and enacting a new family license that incorporates hunting, fishing, state park and other privileges.

We need to be aware of what’s happening at the state level and support efforts that preserve, and grow, our hunting and fishing traditions.

This editorial was originally published in the Alexandria Echo Press, a Forum Communications Company publication.

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