Out with the old

Sports VIEW



Outdoor enthusiasts and hunters in particular will keep a close watch on the Dept. of Natural Resources as Governor Rick Snyder makes what was old, new again.

Snyder appointed a new DNR director in Rod Stokes and is once again splitting the DNR and DEQ into separate agencies. Stokes reported to the Associated Press in early December that his main goal is to stop the downward slide in hunter and angler numbers in the state. This he plans to do without increasing license fees that were set in 1996.

That’s good news for many, which for years have berated the DNR for not listening to its shareholders. Hunters still disagree with the “scientific based” reasoning behind the baiting ban, question the fuzzy math used to account for the state’s deer herd and disagree with how the herd is being managed.

Michigan has seen its hunting and fishing license sales decline over the past several years, dropping below the 2005 numbers after adjusted for inflation. The state brought in $45.3 million in revenue from license sales, according to recent state reports. That may be in part to new programs that were created to help bring back the number of hunters and anglers. Several of those programs do not require a license, as the newcomers to the state’s more popular outdoor opportunities can hunt and fish as apprentices for two years before being required to purchase a license. Hunter retention remains on Stokes hotbutton list, but he says he’s not aiming at the youngsters, rather at their mentors and their non-hunting family members, neighbors and friends, an untapped segment in recent years.

Michigan adopted the Families Afield program several years ago to help families encourage their non-hunting members to take up not just hunting, but shooting sports. It was a fill-in measure to latch on to kids not yet old enough to hunt under Michigan’s then more stringent rules that didn’t allow kids to hunt until reached the age of 14. Part of Families Afield and new legislation that followed dropped the legal hunting ages of kids to 10 and 12 when using archery equipment and firearms.

Interestingly, women across the nation remain as the largest growing segment of the state’s hunters and anglers. The state’s Free Fishing weekends that take place in February and June each year, along with the numerous Becoming an Outdoorswoman program have also opened the doors for more females to take part in hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

The National Sporting Goods

Association reported in the January issue of American Hunter that between 2008 and 2009, female hunters increased nationwide by

5.4 percent, while hunter numbers overall increased just .05 percent; that’s 163,000 new hunters across the country. The most popular areas included muzzleloading, bow hunting and firearms hunting.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which conducts fiveyear surveys, added that women have maintaineda9percentownershipofthe overall hunting population. The last study was conducted in 2006, so late 2011 should be a critical reporting year to see if that held true.

What Stokes will have to work hard at, is enticing disgruntled male hunters back into the fold, as their poor hunting experiences over the past five years have caused many to give up the sport altogether, also taking any potential new hunters with them.

It’s a tall order, but a critical one for Stokes and the DNR. It will take time to review what has happened over the past decade and to make amends to policies that may have been put into place too soon, or without careful thought.

With 12.5 million adult hunters nationwide based on figures by the USFWS, NSGA and other outdoor organizations keeping track, Michigan certainly wants to keep its options open as it looks ahead to the proper management of its wildlife populations, while still retaining its hunters, anglers and shooting sports enthusiasts.

It’s not always about hunting, either, as shooting sports begins in the elementary schools with the National Archery in the Schools Program, Boy Scouts, and into the high schools and colleges with skeet, trap and archery teams. Fishing clubs are also on the increases in schools and families have found it a fairly cheap way to build on family recreation time given the bleak economic times. It would be a shame to see hunting and fishing and the shooting sports fall by the wayside. Perhaps a new leader at the DNR is just what we need. Time will tell.

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