By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is making every effort to convey the message that our state’s great outdoors is for everyone.
“The Department tries to create an atmosphere that is safe, welcoming and accommodating to all individuals,” said Justin Grider, ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division R3 Coordinator.
Grider and Billy Pope, ADCNR’s Communications and Marketing Director, were analyzing license sales data and discovered an encouraging trend. License sales increased across the board, and license sales for people of color had increased significantly since 2019.
Grider said many people realized the outdoors was a safe place to spend recreation time during the COVID pandemic.
“People who had never enjoyed the outdoors discovered the outdoors during the pandemic,” Grider said. “People who had lapsed and hadn’t been outdoors in years were able to spend some time outdoors. I also think people who relied on meat sourced from grocery stores were made aware of how fragile the supply chain could be, so they turned to learning about hunting to provide that source of organic protein. That led to a spike in interest with new audiences to include everyone.
“The cool thing about it is that even since the pandemic, those percentage numbers have remained high. It’s not like folks just came in 2020. They came and realized what our natural resources have to offer and realized the Department caters to everyone.”
The license data also provided the geographical areas where most of the hunting and fishing licenses were sold. The Department then provided numerous outreach programs in the areas that were not as highly represented in that data.
“We looked at the data and focused on the areas that needed attention, where people hadn’t previously interacted with the Department,” Grider said. “That included the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, the Firearms 101 Program, the trapping program or the Go Fish! Alabama Program and many other community engagement efforts.
“We tried to meet people where they were. In doing so, we looked to staff those events and use volunteers who were representative of people from the communities so those individuals could see themselves doing those activities and have somebody to look up to in that role.”
Funds generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses are crucial for supporting ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. License sales for outdoors activities provide a vital funding source through the Pittman-Robertson Act, where an excise tax on firearms and ammunition is collected and then divided to states according to their number of license sales and the size of their state.
R3 is a national program that addresses ways to boost hunting and fishing participation – Recruit, Retain, Reactivate. Grider said he has proof that those outreach efforts have been successful.
“We have several examples of individuals who came to those workshops and are now volunteering, helping as mentors,” he said. “We are increasing our representation from those previously underserved audiences. We can now connect with them and develop relationships.”