Decline of hunting a shared concern among outdoor groups

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(Host) Hunters, environmentalists, academics and wildlife experts gathered in Castleton this week to talk about the future of hunting in Vermont. They’re looking for ways to halt a long term decline in the number of hunters.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, there are no easy answers.

(Zind) For years, Fish and Wildlife officials in Vermont have been concerned about a decline in the number of hunters. One contributing factor is less access to land, caused by development and posting. Some say that deer hunters are heading to other states because they feel the hunting is better there.

But the decline in hunting is a national trend and that’s why many people point to cultural changes as the key reason. Many more people now live in urban settings and have no exposure to hunting. Families also have more recreational options than they once had.

Tom Decker is with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

(Decker) “Their kids are in soccer and tai kwan do and just the myriad of activities that people have that they can go do in their lives. Taking time out to go hunting is a planned thing. There’s a lot of other things that are on people’s agendas today.”

(Zind) Hunting advocates agree there’s little they can do to control the cultural changes, but they say there are some very practical reasons for addressing the problem by promoting hunting more effectively.

Rick Schoonever heads the Vermont Trappers Association.

(Schoonover) “The loss of hunting I’m extremely concerned about because hunting, just like trapping, is a wildlife management issue. We are not going to manage our populations without somebody that’s actively willing to do that. Society’s changed, where we get all of our meat products out of Saran wrap and styrofoam and there’s a disconnect to the land.”

(Zind) This week’s gathering was the first time such a wide variety of groups have come together to talk about the waning public interest in hunting.

Even groups that might disagree in some areas say they share a common goal in working together on this issue. George Gay is executive director of the conservation group the Northern Forest Alliance.

(Gay) “There’s a lot of common ground between people who are interested in forest conservation, hunters, anglers and environmentalists. We need to focus on the common ground and stop focusing on the two or three issues that are polarizing us.”

(Zind) Fish and wildlife officials hope the meeting will help them devise a coordinated effort to help preserve hunting culture in Vermont.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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