“Mommy it’s a mink!” My oldest son Clint is breathlessly jumping up and down at the body grip trap furthest from the car. His proclamation ends with squeals of excitement. He ran 100 yards from the car to the trap as I speed-walked, while trying to dodge groundhog holes. The sun is setting and the combination of chilly evening air and running has turned Clint’s cheeks and nose pink.
By the time I make it over to where Clint was standing, he is scrambling down the creek bank to get a better look at the trap. “Buddy that is not a mink. That is a muskrat,” I say as I peek over the bank at the body grip trap. “Do you see the hairless tail?”
Kyle joins me with our youngest son, Connor, who is triumphantly carrying a mink from a trap that he and his dad just checked. “Dad, we caught a muskrat!” Clint yells. Kyle looks at me and smiles. I can’t help but smile back.
Many Americans recognize the importance of being outside and, according to a 2006 EcoAmerica American Environmental Values Survey, 93% of participants loved being outdoors. There is lots of research-based evidence that outdoor time is beneficial physically, mentally and socially for children as well as adults. Like most Americans, I recognize the importance of outdoor experiences which is why family moments like the one I shared above are so important to me.
Much of the time I spend outside with my family revolves around activities like hunting, trapping and fishing. These are traditional outdoor activities that Kyle and I were introduced to as children by our own parents. Kyle and I meet plenty of other parents that are participating in traditional outdoor activities with their kids, however, a societal shift has placed us into a minority of Americans. The activities that most Americans are choosing to do outside has changed.
A 2012 USDA Forest Service study titled, “Outdoor recreation trends and futures: A technical document supporting the Forest Service 2010 RPA Assessment”, indicates that Americans favor activities like wildlife viewing and photography over traditional activities like hunting, fishing and trapping. These changes in overall attitude toward outdoor activities have a direct impact on sales of hunting and fishing licenses as well as the supplies. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has reported steady declines in hunting and fishing license sales since the 1950’s and only 8% of Ohioans contribute to wildlife conservation through license purchases.
Why does this matter?
Federal money gained from an excise tax on guns, ammunition, archery equipment and fishing equipment is allocated to states based on hunting and fishing license sales. Fewer licenses sold equates to less money available for managing wildlife habitat, wildlife management research, hunter education and public target ranges. Less money for these things directly impacts the quality of public lands for traditional and nontraditional outdoor uses.
On June 14, 2022, state wildlife agencies were given some hope when a new spending bill titled the “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act” or RAWA was passed by the US House of Representatives. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the bill would have provided $1.4 billion annually to assist state and tribal agencies with projects like restoring habitat of at-risk species and invasive species management.
Unfortunately, lawmakers could not decide how best to fund RAWA so it was cut from the larger spending bill that was passed in December. RAWA is not necessarily dead. It still has bipartisan support but needs to be reintroduced to the House and Senate. Figuring out how best to fund the bill will be a major hurdle.
What can we do?
For those Americans concerned about the trajectory of wildlife conservation funding, there are lots of options for getting involved. My first suggestion would be to research the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and then contact your lawmakers to remind them of RAWA’s importance to all Americans that enjoy spending time outdoors.
Recruiting new sportsmen and women is still incredibly important to raise hunting and fishing license sales. Traditional R3 programming has tended to only reach children of parents that are already active in hunting, trapping and fishing. Many R3 programs are now being called “feel-good programs” by experts. These tend to be weekend programs that don’t assist in the long-term development of sportsmen and women.
Organizations can consider expanding programming to include long-term mentorship opportunities. The Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports has found that educational investment in young kids tends to have low returns. Children do not have disposable income and they have lots of other activities competing for their time. Consider expanding educational programming to audiences of young adults or older adults that can invest money and time into a new hobby like hunting, trapping or fishing.
I was certified as a hunter education instructor last year and was the only woman in the class. Diversifying the instructor pool can only help students feel more comfortable during hunter, trapper, and fishing education programs. Consider becoming certified to teach hunting, trapping, and fishing education. Here in Ohio, you can visit ohiodnr.gov/discover-and-learn/education-training/hunter-education/huntered-instructors to learn more about becoming certified or email Matt Orman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Passport to Fishing” is Ohio’s beginner angler program. If interested in becoming certified to teach Passport to Fishing visit, ohiodnr.gov/discover-and-learn/education-training/aquatic-education/passport-to-fishing. Interested individuals can also contact Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Aquatic Education Coordinator at email@example.com.
Lastly, consider expanding educational programming topics. Holding nature hikes with tips on nature photography could be a great way to connect with a different audience of outdoor lovers. Survey that crowd for ideas on programming that they would enjoy attending. New connections will only help raise awareness of the difficulties surrounding wildlife conservation funding.
The wildlife conservation community is learning from data and research on societal changes regarding outdoor activities. ODNR Division of Wildlife has already embraced some of the ideas that I have mentioned above including holding a yearly Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure event. The event invites lady participants to take part in educational activities like boat trailering, kayak fishing, archery, mountain bike skills, nature photography and wild edibles. The Division of Wildlife also has a great Wild Ohio Harvest Community webpage with “information and opportunities to learn to safely and responsibly fish, hunt and harvest your own local food.”
I am very thankful for the time I get to spend outdoors with my family. As my kids get older I hope that they invite their friends to join them on their own outdoor adventures. I look forward to expanding our outdoor hobbies to include less traditional outdoor activities. I also look forward to embracing change as I continue working to keep conserve wildlife and wild spaces.
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