Decline in hunters takes toll on conservation revenue
Hunters fund conservation efforts nationwide, but with less than 1 percent of Connecticut residents being registered hunters, conservation efforts are dwindling, experts say.
Decades ago, more than 5 percent of the state’s population were registered hunters.
“It’s a smaller and smaller minority of our population,” said Min Huang, migratory gamebird program leader with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Wildlife Division. “We’re trying to look at new ways to generate revenue.”
Huang said various factors have led to the decline of hunters in the state, adding that it’s a nationwide trend.
He said that over the last 20 to 30 years, there has been a gradual loss between people and their connection to nature.
Also, Huang said, “Over the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve had a lot of incidents of violence, so the anti-gun sentiment is growing.”
But for some, a lack of spare time precludes hunting.
“We’re never going to lose hunting, but we’re never going to get hunter numbers back to where they were 30 years ago,” Huang said.
As hunter numbers decline, so does the amount of money that goes toward conservation efforts in Connecticut, Huang said.
“People need to understand that your tax dollars don’t necessarily go toward conservation,” he said. “A lot of these species are declining. And their habitats — we’re losing them. A lot of that is because we don’t have the adequate funding to protect them.”
In Connecticut, a 2019 license for firearms hunting and fishing in all waters costs $40 for a state resident, $120 for a non-resident. The licenses, sold by the DEEP, run as high as $250 for someone from out of state trapping in Connecticut, and as low as free for in-state trappers and firearms hunters 65 and over.
The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, known more commonly as the Pittman-Robertson Act, was approved by Congress on Sept. 2, 1937. The act, which went into effect on July 1, 1938, means that money used to pay for weapons and hunting equipment also goes directly back into conservation.
“The money goes toward protecting habitats, conducting annual surveys to understand how many there are out there and how they’re doing,” Huang said. “Non-hunted species — like songbirds — we have no idea how they’re doing out there because we don’t have the money to do a basic survey.”
DEEP’s Wildlife Division is on the second year of a project — Connecticut Bird Atlas — that is being funded through money from Pittman-Robertson Act funds.
But Huang said more needs to be done, mentioning legislation in Washington, D.C., that currently needs sponsors to get it moving forward — a bill called Reinvesting in America’s Wildlife Act.
“If it were to come to pass, it would likely mean another $13 million a year to Connecticut for conservation. That would just be such a huge boom to wildlife and habitats,” Huang said. “Currently, Connecticut is seeing about $3 million a year.”
Ducks Unlimited is an organization that puts a major spotlight on conservation, restoration and management of wetlands, an area that needs much attention, according to Chris Sebastian, a spokesman for the hunting organization.
“We realized that if people don’t do something there won’t be anything left,” Sebastian said. “So if you kayak, hunt, fish, go out into nature and take photos, get a duck stamp. And get one every year.”
The Migratory Bird Conservation Stamp, also known as the duck stamp, is a required purchase for migratory bird hunters in Connecticut. The stamp is available where fishing and hunting licenses are sold.
Funds from the duck stamp program allowed Ducks Unlimited to be a part of restoring 25 acres of marshland habitat at Meshomasic State Forest in the central part of Connecticut last year, Sebastian said.
“What happens a lot of times is ... habitats are managed by the state and there’s infrastructure needed to manage water levels,” he said. “Wetlands aren’t meant to be wet all the time.”
The project at the Meshomasic State Forest included helping develop plant material that ducks and other species need to live and adding pumps and water control structures so the wetlands it could be managed for wildlife.
“In the future we’ll be doing more of this,” Sebastian said, adding that projects can be from anywhere from 5 acres of habitat to 1,500 acres or more.
Sebastian urged local residents to support Ducks Unlimited’s conservation efforts by joining a chapter or going to a banquet.
“The more work we can do in Connecticut and surrounding states, it will help,” Sebastian added. “We couldn’t do this work without support from waterfowlers, hunters and our supporters.”