Wyoming’s Game & Fish Department has relied on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses as its main source of revenue for decades.
Matt Dunfee, program manager of the Wildlife Management Institute, sees major problems ahead with that strategy if it doesn’t considerably change.
“It’s a bunch of middle-age white guys,” Dunfee described hunters, anglers and shooters. “It won’t be long until they’re in the minority, and there’s nobody to replace them.”
In addition to helping Wyoming pay for the agency’s wildlife management, conservation and habitat improvement programs, among others, Dunfee said the national industry is huge — it takes in nearly $86 billion a year. Hunters alone each spend an average of $2,600 a year, he noted.
On Wednesday in Casper, the wildlife expert told the Governor’s Task Force on Wyoming Game & Fish Funding that the sportsmen who fund the state agency will soon be in the minority nationwide. Dunfee came from Washington, D.C., armed with statistics to explain the consequences of relying on a dwindling population for revenue.
Less than 6 percent of Americans now hunt, fish or participate in shooting sports, Dunfee noted. A whopping 89 percent are men, and 93 percent of them are Caucasian.
Their average age is in the mid-40s, and they increasingly tend to live in the suburbs, he added.
The number of sportsmen and women did increase by 9 percent between 2005-11, but Dunfee said on average, these newbies purchasing their first licenses were over 55.
The main problem is there has been very little effort to recruit and retain a new generation of hunters and fishermen. “We’re not getting young people involved,” Dunfee said. “We’re not bringing our kids with us to hunt and fish.”
There is also no effort to persuade blacks, Latinos and women to take up the sports. Each state game and fish department is trying to recruit new participants in their own way, with varying degrees of success. So far Utah, Wisconsin and Oregon have had the best results.
A united national recruiting campaign also does not exist, but the Wildlife Management Institute makes presentations in many states to spread the word about best practices.
Even when states are successful recruiting young people to take the place of today’s sportsmen, Dunfee said, “There are precious few retention efforts.” He added that many women quit hunting, fishing and shooting after only trying the sports a few times.
But Dunfee said programs that encourage and teach young people to participate have been very successful. When children have a mentor to safely guide them, he related, 92 percent purchase licenses the next year.
The Wyoming task force will wrap up its third of four scheduled meetings beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Oil and Gas Conservation Building in Casper. Today’s agenda is focused on recommendations the group will make to Gov. Matt Mead on new ways to identify revenue sources and help stabilize Game & Fish funding.
The state’s general fund, which is used to operate nearly every state agency, historically has contributed very little money to Wyoming Game & Fish. Some members of the Wyoming Legislature want to keep it that way, but they also shot down a proposal a few years ago that would have allowed the department to increase the cost of hunting and fishing licenses so it could generate more revenue on its own.
Task force member Dale Critchfield, a retired hunting agent, said the department and many other committees over the years have tried to provide a stable source of funding, without much success.
“The time is now,” he said firmly. “We can’t afford to kick the can down the road again. We need to act now.”