Decline in hunters could hurt conservation efforts

(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Arkansas's billion-dollar hunting and fishing industry seem to be on the decline, which could affect conservation efforts across the state.

The most recent numbers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed only 4.4% of adults still hunt.

That was measured in 2016 and showed a drop from 5.6% in 2011. Their "adult population" includes people 16 and older.

The trend is seen here in Arkansas as well, but Arkansas Game and Fish officials say the drop in purchase of hunting and fishing license in the state is not as drastic as the nationwide decrease.

"And we are trying to do some things to address that and look at that," AGFC Northeast Regional Educator Chuck Long said. "People tend to look at factors like kid involvement and that sort of thing and we are looking at that. It's just something nationwide that we deal with and several states are putting out specific efforts to address those issues because it does come back to our funding and our license sales."

There is a 1/8-cent sales tax in Arkansas that helps with AGFC conservation efforts.

"We get 45% percent of that each time someone buys something in Arkansas," Long said. "It's our conservation sales tax passed in 1996 and we're thankful to the voters for that and that does a lot but still we need our hunters and fisherman out there."

Most of state wildlife agency funding comes from license fees and taxes on guns, ammunition, and angling equipment.

That funding is used for education and conservation efforts, which means making sure animal populations aren't dwindling and that there isn't a dangerous overpopulation.

"We want the consumptive users to go out and enjoy that but we still have a lot of users that go out and just like looking at wildlife but without our hunters, that wildlife [like] the bald eagles wouldn't be there, the other animals they like to go look out wouldn't be there without our hunters and hunters doing their part in conservation," Long said.

Long said that hunters are also truly involved in their sport and passionate about the outdoors.

"Hunters and fisherman are both very good at giving back and supporting our agency by buying the hunting and fishing license but also reaching out and doing habitat work on their property," he said.

The commission tries to hold fun and interactive classes and activities to get youth interested in the outdoors.

Long also thinks the movement toward wanting to know where food is coming from may help push people back into the sport.

"A great way to do that is to hunt and fish so then you know exactly where that animal came from," Long said. "It's a great sustainable resource and a lot of states are looking at that as a way to promote hunting."

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