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Minnesota Legislature

Angling for more participation

Published (3/2/2012)
By Bob Geiger
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Family togetherness experienced in the joy of catching, cleaning and cooking fresh fish or hunting game is losing out to the latest electronic gadget or video game release.

Between 2000 and 2010, participation rates of Minnesotans hooked on fishing or hunting decreased as a growing percentage of state residents made other choices on how to spend their leisure time. This has caught the attention of the Department of Natural Resources, which has proposed recruitment and retention efforts in HF2171, sponsored by Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar).

The bill opens the door for the DNR to encourage outdoor activities, focusing on efforts to recruit and retain anglers, hunters and trappers of all ages.

Programs include retaining existing participants and expanding the amount of information available online in a variety of languages, particularly Spanish, to Minnesota’s increasingly diverse population.

Great outdoors – a great moneymaker

Minnesota’s hunting and fishing industry employs 55,000 people and generates $5.8 billion in annual spending, according to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses.

That $5.8 billion includes $1.6 billion in wages, $430 million in federal taxes and $415 million in state taxes.

Bottom line: Lifestyle choices are having an impact on the Minnesota State Constitution-protected livelihood of hunting and fishing.

“We have a problem right now because we are not selling enough hunting and fishing licenses in the state of Minnesota,” Hackbarth recently told the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee meeting. The committe spent two meetings this week reviewing the bill. No action has yet been taken.

How can this lack of participation in the outdoors be in the land of 10,000 lakes?

“It’s the Xbox kids; getting them off the couch and outdoors,” said Bob Meier, DNR director of policy and government relations.

While DNR officials cite electronics as a likely cause of decreased hunting and fishing participation, the department maintains an Internet presence that contains high-tech tools to promote hunter recruitment and retention.

Jay Johnson, hunter recruitment and retention coordinator with the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division, said recruitment and retention efforts begin with awareness of the outdoors sport, and progress through interest, trial and continuing participation in and support of the activity.

Among the DNR’s online offerings is a Google Earth Hunter Walking Trail application, a click-by-county tool that can be accessed at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/hwt/index.html. Another is a Recreation Compass, which features 15 layers of lakes and rivers, forests and parks, water trails and water access locations. It is available at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/compass.html.

Ed Boggess, director of the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division, said the department is adding more electronic features for anglers and hunters who like to stay connected with the world.

For example, some state parks now offer Wi-Fi. “If you can’t beat them, join them,” Boggess said.

But getting outside is more than just about recreation.

“One of the main things is we recognize that outdoor recreation is tied to a healthy lifestyle … There’s also a pretty direct tie between environmental conservation and supporting stewardship of those resources,” Boggess said.

Declining participation

The decline in hunting and fishing participation in these popular Minnesota outdoor sports is falling as Minnesota’s population rises.

Between 2000 and 2010, Minnesota’s population increased 7.8 percent, from 4.9 million to 5.3 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Participation rates must keep pace with population increases to stay even. And census data indicates that Minnesota is below that threshold.

Declining participation has spurred conservation leaders to characterize the dip as a “long-term concern from both a cultural and resource management perspective.”

“It’s extremely important to keep the community engaged in outdoor activities for a number of reasons. We want to keep that community engaged so conservation remains important to the citizens of Minnesota,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

According to a September 2011 report from the DNR and Minnesota Management & Budget, year-to-year retention rates for licensed anglers and hunters averaged

72 percent and 84 percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2010.

During that period, the number of licensed anglers 16 and older increased by 21,777 to just over 1.2 million – up just 1.8 percent over 10 years, according to the report.

The number of licensed Minnesota hunters fell by nearly 2.2 percent, or 11,612, to 524,854 from 2000 to 2010.

In terms of participation, the percentage of Minnesotans 16 and up licensed to fish has fallen from 40 percent in the late 1960s to 29 percent – with the steepest decline among adults ages 25 to 44.

Among hunters, participation held steady at 16 percent from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s before falling to 13 percent in 2010 – with the steepest declines coming from Minnesotans aged 16 to 44.

Boggess said the DNR is able to spend up to 5 percent of Heritage Enhancement Fund money generated by the Minnesota State Lottery for fishing and hunting retention and recruitment. That currently totals $408,500 a year.

The DNR can bolster state funding by applying for grants from private partners including the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation and National Shooting Sports Foundation he says.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) sponsors a companion, SF1943, which awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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