I am not a big fan of recreational animal killing (= hunting). But this story from the United States is interesting. It does offer possible policy insights for Australia.
In the US the decline in hunting and the consequent decline in hunting licence fees that fund increasingly costly conservation efforts is creating a threat for US wildlife. How to protect the endangered hunter?
The number of hunters has slid from a peak of 19.1 million in 1975 to 12.5 million last year, while states generated $724 million last year through hunting licenses and fees for wildlife management and conservation; taxes on guns and ammunition added another $267 million, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Sportsmen pay the bills, especially east of the Mississippi," says Rob Sexton, vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a hunters advocacy group in Columbus, Ohio. "A vast majority of the public land where people go for walks, wildlife viewing or mountain biking, the vast majority is bought by sportsmen."
To stem the loss, states have been altering hunting laws to get people into the woods.
Since 2004, 18 states have changed their laws to loosen restrictions on when children can hunt with parents, and to allow novice adult hunters to try hunting without a license, Sexton says. The effort has shown signs of working, Sexton says: The states have seen an additional 35,000 people apply for hunting licenses since 2004.
The decrease in hunters appears to be a result of modern living, says Nicholas Throckmorton, Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman. He says fewer Americans hunt because they are spending more time on work and organized sports for their children. Most Americans now live farther from wildlife areas than in the past, says Throckmorton, whose agency conducts a national survey of Americans' outdoor activities every five years.
Officials are changing state laws because they are "trying to tear down the barrier for recruitment of new hunters," Throckmorton says.
Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, a research firm focusing on outdoor recreation, says the modest increase in the hunter population has been good news. He says the vanishing hunters are "a long-term concern."
"At some point, there's going to be less dollars if current trends continue," Duda says. "Is it a good thing for fewer and fewer people to be funding all wildlife conservation … protecting national resources enjoyed by 97% of the people?"
Among steps being taken:
•Kentucky allows new hunters to hunt for a year with a legal hunter before taking a hunter-safety course. Since July, 1,159 new permits have been issued.
•Oregon has a Mentored Youth Hunter Program that allows unlicensed children ages 9 to 13 to receive one-on-one hunting experience and training.
•Arizona implemented an online hunter-safety course that can be completed in three hours, instead of the standard 16. Big game, such as deer, are reserved for hunters 10 and up.
More hunters also help states save money on certain expenditures, such as those linked to damage by foragers that are too plentiful, such as the Canada goose and whitetail deer.
"Rather than paying professional hunters to cull the herd, sportsmen would be happy to pay a fee to do it themselves," Sexton says.
Some say the focus on hunter retention is not the way to go.
"The number of people who hunt has declined in recent decades, and the number of people who enjoy wildlife in other ways, like wildlife watching or bird-watching, continues to expand," says Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.
"Efforts to reverse these trends are futile."
Rachel Brittin, spokeswoman for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, says hunters are a great source of revenue, but they can't do it alone.
U.S. wildlife is threatened by more issues than ever: increasing urbanization, invasive species, climate change and new diseases. States receive $1.5 billion a year but need an additional $1 billion annually to accomplish goals, Brittin says.
Efforts to raise enough elsewhere have failed, says Dave Chadwick of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Lawmakers came up with a plan to buy land with $350 million a year in offshore oil and gas revenue, he says. Environmental groups squawked about taking money from the oil and gas industry, and property rights advocates balked at the land acquisitions, Chadwick says. The effort died in 2000. (my bold, how incredible!)