TWIN FALLS • Hunting is a popular pastime in Idaho. It’s just not as popular as it used to be.
What does that mean for Idaho? Less revenue for outdoors programs.
Hunting license and tag sales have slowly declined over the past several years, according to data from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“Fishing licenses have stayed relatively steady as far as the numbers of licenses sold,” regional conservation officer Gary Hompland said. “Most of that, from what we can tell, is because we’ve had some really good salmon and steelhead runs the last few years. ... What is really disconcerting is our hunting licenses, both resident and non-resident.
“When those sales start to slump, all of our programs that function primarily on a budget related to those sales are affected.”
Hompland has seen it firsthand with his own staff.
Open positions in conservation that used to be filled within a matter of weeks now are held open for months, he said, and some of his law enforcement officers sometimes are sent to help other divisions of the agency such as its fisheries program.
Kelton Hatch, the department’s regional conservation educator, said his hunter-education programs have not been affected much because of slumping sales, in large part thanks to its volunteer program. About 100 volunteers teach just hunter ed.
Brad Lowe, regional wildlife biologist, said he expects money for the department’s Access Yes! — a program designed to improve sportsmen’s access through private land to public land — will dwindle again this year, just as it has for the past three or more years.
“Unless we can cobble together some more grants,” Lowe said, noting that federal aid has helped to secure some long-term contracts.
Access Yes! is funded partially through super hunt sales, he said. Lowe won’t know his budget until June.
Nationwide, there were 19.1 million hunters in 1975, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By 2006 that number had declined to 12.5 million, and by 2025 the number of hunters is projected to be 9.1 million.
The participation rate in hunting is about 1 out of every 20 people. The largest declines by state include Rhode Island (59 percent), California (38 percent) and Iowa (26 percent), according to the 2010 report.
Hompland said he believes there are a couple of reasons for the decline: a dour economy and the changing demographics of hunters.
“We’re not recruiting new hunters like we used to,” he said, noting that families nowadays are pulled in many directions; single-parent families might not be introducing kids to the outdoors like two-parent families used to. And new technology makes hunting for many people a quick and easy outing instead of an investment of time and energy in teaching their kids about going afield.
Fishing is another matter.
“We haven’t seen the same level of decline because resident salmon fishing has been pretty stable,” said regional fisheries manager Doug Megargle. “But we’re not sitting on our laurels. ... Idaho is not an anomaly.”
Megargle said something Fish and Game tries to do across the board is encourage people to get outdoors.
“We work really hard in trying to make it easy and fun for people to get involved,” he said. “We offer fishing clinics, hunting education classes, programs in schools.”
The department’s fishing trailer, for instance, shows up at family-friendly waters and puts a fishing pole in people’s hands. Novice anglers are even taught how to clean fish, Megargle said.
“We’re trying to do whatever we can to encourage folks to be outside, to be active, and take advantage of what Idaho has to offer.”