Sunday, August 14, 2011

Decline In Waterfowl Hunters Stumps Commission


Participation in waterfowling has declined across the state over the past few decades. This past year, for example, the state was home to about 23,000 duck hunters and about 28,000 goose hunters.

Some hunt both, so the total number of people setting up to hunt birds was more like 40,000 people, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission statistics.

That was 25 percent fewer than the 10-year average, and half as many hunters as the state once had. In the late 1970s — the heyday of waterfowling here, at least in recent history — the state had 80,000 to 90,000 waterfowlers overall, split evenly between duck and goose hunters.
What's changed? That's something the Game Commission wants to figure out. It's currently doing a mail survey of 5,000 waterfowl hunters.

"We're hoping to gain more insight into why people participate and why they may be choosing not to participate," said Kevin Jacobs, a waterfowl biologist with the commission. "We're hoping to gather more information about opinions and attitudes."

The decline in hunters — which is mirrored by a decline in the number of days they hunt — might be tied to demographics, Jacobs said. Pennsylvania's hunters are getting older.

"But we want to find out if there are other reasons, too. Is it regulations, is it access, is it cost, that maybe guys can't afford to hunt like they once did, is it competition from other activities? Those are the things we want to find out," Jacobs said.

If the state can find answers, others will be interested. That's because participation in waterfowling is down just about everywhere. The number of hunters and days hunted nationally declined by about 25 percent from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, said Richard Aiken, an economist and survey specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Nationally, the trend is a downward one. It's not just a Pennsylvania issue, certainly," Aiken said.
There are many theories, but no definitive answers for why that is, Aiken added.
The commission is hoping to learn why. Results of its mail survey are expected to be available by October, Jacobs said.

In the meantime, the commission is trying to help would-be waterfowlers get started. Jacobs penned a two-page insert in the digest that hunters get with their hunting license. It offers tips on regulations, seasons and bag limits and where to hunt ducks and geese, among other things.

Jacobs hopes it helps bring hunter numbers back up. "Hopefully, it will shorten the learning curve a bit," he said

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