Hunting traditions sag as land, desire disappear

Vital funding fades with sportsmen, land

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The dropoffs have hurt state conservation agencies that rely heavily on license sales for funding. In Massachusetts, the lost revenue has hampered the state’s habitat restoration efforts and its ability to repair its vehicles.

State wildlife officials have pooled resources with other conservation groups and pursue federal grants more aggressively, said Marion Larson, a Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game biologist.

Michigan, meanwhile, has seen a 31 percent drop in overall license sales over the past 20 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The ensuing revenue losses mean wildlife officials haven’t been able to fill 35 vacant positions and have taken a less-detailed approach to managing the deer population.

In Pennsylvania, license sales have dipped 20 percent over the past two decades. The state’s game commission has had to cut spending by about a million dollars in the past two years, cutting back efforts to repopulate pheasants, leaving 30 positions unfilled and asking employees to repair their own vehicles, Mr. Feaser said.

To help stave off the losses, states and outdoors groups have been stepping up efforts to retain and recruit hunters. The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and National Wild Turkey Federation launched the program Families Afield in 2005 that calls for states to scale back youth hunting regulations. Thirty states have since reduced or eliminated minimum hunting ages, NSSF spokesman Bill Brassard Jr. said.

Michigan officials have offered more hunting workshops for women and children. They also hope to use a federal grant to bolster participation in a decades-old program that pays some landowners up to $10 an acre to let hunters onto their property. Only about 50 farms out of potentially thousands currently participate, state officials said.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources is researching how best to use social networking to recruit youngsters into the sport. The agency also expanded its Learn to Hunt program last year to offer reimbursements to hunting clubs and associations that teach children and novices about the sport.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Mr. Sanetti said his organization is working to recruit new gun owners who rushed to purchase firearms out of fears President Obama would stiffen gun regulations into hunting.

But the hunting fabric continues to fray.

Jeff Schinkten of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., is president of Whitetails Unlimited, a national conservation organization that works to preserve deer hunting. He said his 33-year-old son, Oliver, recently gave up the sport after years of seeing no deer and taking care of a newborn child.

“I miss my son and wish he was out here,” Mr. Schinkten said. “Hunters better be concerned. If it keeps going like this, it’s not going to be good. We lose hunters, we lose license sales. It’s just a vicious circle.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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