SALT LAKE CITY — Hunting is dying off. At least, that’s the case nationally and it could cause problems for future conservation efforts.
The Washington Post once again highlighted this trend in an article Monday. It was first reported when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released its 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation report two years ago.
A national hunting decline
The 2016 report stated that 11.5 million people hunted in the U.S. That number was 2 million less than five years ago and half of what it was 50 years ago. However, 2016 trends also indicated that hunting is aging. It found that more than one-third of all hunters were 55 or older and 60% of all hunters were 45 or older. Only 11% of hunters were ages 16-24.
That’s not to say the outdoors lost popularity. The same report pointed out that 86 million people went out to watch wildlife and 40% of the entire U.S. population above 16 enjoyed some sort of outdoor activity that same year, which included fishing, hunting, birdwatching or photography.
Declining hunting numbers could pose a nationwide conservation problem. A 2018 NPR report pointed out that hunting and fishing heavily fund conservation for many U.S. states — something that other activities don’t fund.
Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, ranking member and former chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, explained on KSL NewsRadio’s “Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry” Tuesday that people are assessed a fee from the federal government when they buy their hunting and fishing licenses or outdoors equipment. About 6% of all purchases go back to the state.
“The states are in charge of wildlife, and they get the federal money to help them assist with that program,” Bishop said. That has been the case since the Pittman-Robertson Act was enacted in 1937.
“It’s produced $14 billion over the years that goes specifically to conservation,” the congressman added. “The more we encourage hunters and encourage ammunition buyers, the more money can go into the conservation program.”
The program funds conservation to this day, even as hunting declines. Bishop warns that the decline could force states to pay more for conservation on their own. Some states have experienced deficits for conservation as a result of hunting declines in recent years, the Washington Post reported.
So what about Utah?
Much like other U.S. states, a big chunk of Utah’s wildlife projects are funded through money from license and equipment sales, said Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Faith Heaton Jolley.
“They are really funding, honestly, the biggest majority of these types of projects,” she said.
Interestingly enough, Utah has been bucking the hunting decline trend, though. That’s helped the agency see revenue increases over the past decade, according to DWR data. That data also shows there has been an increase of hunting licenses issued over the past year and hunting has remained consistent over the past 10 years.
In 2010, there were a little more than 43,500 hunting licenses issued in Utah. It was close to 45,500 by 2018, and the number spiked to decade-high 50,636 licenses in 2019.
Fishing licenses have also remained steady in Utah. There were 210,132 licenses issued in 2010 and 224,284 fishing licenses issued in 2019. Fishing and hunting combination licenses have also risen over the past decade. There were a little more than 152,000 of those licenses issued in 2010 and more than 179,000 issued last year, according to DWR’s data.
Overall state revenue from these licenses has also increased. The division reported $20.1 million in revenue last year — about $850,000 more than 2018. Hunting and fishing licenses led to $16.75 million in revenue in 2010.
Those numbers show that, at least for now, Utah’s conservation funding isn’t affected by a nationwide decline in hunting.
“We’re really fortunate because hunting has a big heritage in Utah and our numbers have not dropped like a lot of the other states across the nation,” Jolley said. “We really have had kind of a steady incline, where a lot of the rest of the country has had a significant decline in the number of hunters and anglers they have.”
Contributing: Lee Lonsberry, KSL NewsRadio