By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
With the social distancing requirements from COVID-19, many people have turned to the outdoors to escape the impact of the lockdowns.
The number of people fishing and hunting for a variety of game species has seen a boost, and Justin Grider wants to see that trend continue. Grider was recently named the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s R3 Coordinator.
R3 is a national program that addresses ways to boost hunting and fishing participation – Recruit, Retain, Reactivate.
“The overarching view of R3 is that we want to reverse the decline in hunting and fishing license sales that’s been happening for several decades,” Grider said. “The average age of a license buyer in the state of Alabama is the late 50s, and once they turn 65 they don’t have to buy a license.
“We have to do something to change that trend. We not only want to revamp what we’re doing, we want to get everybody on the same page Division-wide. We want to streamline existing programs and then create new, innovative programs that will allow us to reach more people and give us a bigger footprint. We also want to reach new audiences, not only the ones we’re already in contact with.”
Grider, WFF staff and the Communications and Marketing Section of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) are working on an R3 training video (I Am R3) to educate Department personnel.
“We want everybody in the Department to know what R3 is,” Grider said. “We want them to know the problems we are facing as an agency in that our funding model is tied to license sales. We need people to understand the importance of reversing downward sales trajectories.”
Grider said the campaign will include having more outdoors-oriented events led by WFF staff as well as training volunteers so the volunteers will be able to host the events by themselves.
“We want to increase opportunities for people to learn and get involved,” he said.
Outreach is a significant aspect of the R3 effort. A little over a year ago, Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship revamped the makeup and mission of the old Information and Education Section into the new Marketing and Communications Section and tasked Section Chief Billy Pope to find ways to expose the public to the benefits of outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing.
“It’s exciting that we are in a position to expand our marketing efforts with Billy Pope and his staff,” Grider said. “My hat’s off to Commissioner Blankenship and Billy Pope for their willingness to try innovative ideas and new approaches in how we are promoting our programs, promoting our license sales and encouraging people to utilize public lands and water bodies. We’re encouraging people to get outside to hunt, fish and get to the shooting ranges.
“That’s not something we have done in the past as a Department. But this is a national trend in the last couple of years and especially during the pandemic; state agencies are starting to realize the role marketing can play in helping reverse downward trends in participation.”
Although the white-tailed deer season has closed for now, Grider said the outreach will highlight the upcoming turkey season, which opens on March 20, and the abundant fishing opportunities in the spring. The campaign will continue into the summer and fall with dove season, archery season and the rifle deer season.
During the COVID pandemic, Alabama has seen a significant increase in all outdoors activities. Hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and other activities have increased as well as hunting and fishing, which can be tracked through license sales.
“We have been very fortunate to see a surge in fishing, especially, but also in resident hunting licenses,” Grider said. “The goal is to retain those new license buyers. These outreach efforts we’re putting in place are so we can retain those folks who got outdoors because of the pandemic. Because of the restrictions, people had more time on their hands and were able to get outside. We want to do whatever we can to retain that new audience.”