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New Book Highlights Wildlife Successes

By DAVID RAINER

While you’re out shopping for Christmas gifts for those family members and friends who love the outdoors, the purchase could very well provide additional benefits that are unknown to most of the American public.

For each piece of fishing equipment and all firearms and ammunition used in hunting and the shooting sports purchased by consumers, an excise tax is collected that directly benefits wildlife and fisheries programs across the U.S.

That lack of understanding of why wildlife and fish populations are thriving is one of the reasons that Mark Damian Duda and co-authors Martin F. Jones and Andrea Criscione of Responsive Management compiled a comprehensive book – The Sportsman’s Voice: Hunting and Fishing in America – that covers the myriad aspects of our cherished outdoors activities in the United States.

“This book chronicles the whole success story of hunting and fishing and wildlife management in the United States,” said Corky Pugh, Director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division “We also feel it’s newsworthy that Mark Duda, who is the foremost authority on factors that affect participation in hunting and fishing, has singled out our youth dove hunt program as a successful hunting recruitment-retention program.”

Duda said the book is the culmination of a project that started with a speaking engagement in front of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus – a group of U.S. Senators and Congressmen concerned about sportsmen’s issues. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the caucus’ support arm, asked Duda to give a state of the state of hunting and fishing. The presentation went so well that the foundation commissioned a full report that ended up to be of significant proportion.

“As I sat and looked at the information we compiled, I saw a potential book,” Duda said. “I got my staff and co-authors to start putting it together in a book-type format. We do a lot of work for the (wildlife and fisheries) agencies and conservation and sportsmen’s groups across the nation. We looked at the issues that we got the most questions about and developed the outline and chapters from that. A lot of it is our original research, but it’s supplemented with other people’s research, as well as fish and wildlife conservation policy.”

The first section of the book covers the history of fish and wildlife management and hunting and fishing in the U.S. to give readers the baseline knowledge to understand where these endeavors started and how successful they have become today.

“In the end, what we wanted to do was give somebody who may not be familiar with wildlife management the full background on the state of the state of hunting and fishing in the U.S.,” Duda said. “We have a system in U.S. that is the envy of the world. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation has certain elements that some people take for granted but are incredibly important in terms of wildlife management in the U.S. We know that participation in hunting and fishing has been declining, but we also know that programs state agencies have been implementing have stemmed that tide. Fishing has stabilized if not increased a little bit. Last year, a lot of states saw increases in hunting participation, as well.

“Also, sportsmen have an obligation to know their sport. They need to know where they came from. The unfortunate part is that the American public and a lot of hunters and anglers don’t know a lot about wildlife management. They know how to go hunting and fishing, but they don’t know about the infrastructure – the biologists, law enforcement officers and administrators that make the wildlife and fish available to them.”

The section in the book on recruitment and retention is particularly pertinent to Alabama. Duda focuses on the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Youth Dove Hunt program as a model of success. The youth dove hunt program celebrated its 10th consecutive year in 2010.

“Alabama’s youth dove hunt program is an example of a program that is very good,” Duda said. “The reason I think it’s a very good program is that it is based on a solid foundation of research. It wasn’t just somebody’s idea to go out and do it. It is a program developed on recruitment and retention research on attitudes and opinions on hunting initiation and hunting satisfaction. It’s in the book and I also use it in speeches. I just used it last week in a speech to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

“Another thing is it’s experiential. People who have never hunted can go out and watch and do not have to participate. It’s an annual event. That’s important. The way to make a hunter is to go every single year. Have it locked in. Have it something that people look forward to. That’s the way you make hunters.”

The youth dove hunts also provide the social support with friends, family, mentors and total strangers in the mix. This often results in making new friends, as well as the planning of additional outdoors activities, according to Duda.

“Another thing is that the youth dove hunts occur in the open,” he said. “A lot of times people who want to observe hunting can’t see people hunting because they’re in the woods.

“Encapsulating all that, it follows what we call a natural path to hunting. What I mean is that the way people are usually initiated into hunting is what the youth dove hunts provide – they start young, they observe without participating, the social support system is in place, they do it every year. All of the things that make a hunter, the youth dove hunts replicate. That’s why I think it’s one of the best recruitment and retention programs in the nation.”

Duda does think that recruitment and retention is now in a catch-up mode because of a changing society that lost its focus on the outdoors.

“I do think we’ve lost out on one generation, the 30- to 40-year-olds,” he said. “I think that’s why we’ve seen the decline in hunting and fishing in the last two decades.

“Now agencies are putting programs in place to make people aware of opportunities. I can’t predict the future, but I do know agencies, over the past 10 years, have taken this issue very seriously. When wildlife populations were at their lows from the 1850s to the 1900s, that’s when people started to do something about it. Now that the agencies are taking this seriously, I can see that the decline in hunting and fishing should stop and we could possibly see an increase in the next 10 to 20 years.”

Another aspect of the book deals with the enormous economic impact of hunting and fishing activities.

“There are several ways to look at the economic impact of hunting and fishing,” Duda said. “You can look at it from a pure expenditure standpoint that hunters and anglers spend money. But it’s also true there is an economic ripple effect. When you buy a gun, it means somebody has a job because you bought a gun. Then he goes out and spends money because he has a job. Then there are all the taxes collected on that economic activity.”

Studies indicated that about $76 billion is spent on hunting and fishing equipment annually, which sustains 1.6 million jobs. This generates $25 billion in federal, state and local taxes each year.

“Those are big time numbers,” Duda said.

After 20 years in the research business, Duda has uncovered some results that he considers, well, surprising.

“One thing when I started doing research was a lot of people said to me that nobody supported hunting and fishing,” he said. “And that’s just not true. More than 75 percent of the population support hunting and 95 percent support fishing.

“The other thing that has been a little surprising and a little disconcerting is how little people know about the activities, which is why we wrote the book. The American public knows very, very little about hunting and fishing and the importance in terms of history, the economic contribution and the conservation sportsmen bring to the public. But the sportsmen don’t know that much either. They don’t know about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. They don’t know about the pieces of that that are so important – Pittman-Robertson, Wallop-Breaux, Dingell-Johnson. They don’t understand that when they buy a firearm, ammunition or a fishing pole that those items are taxed and that money goes directly into fish and wildlife management. And that money is what has brought back so many species from the brink of extinction. That may be the most important aspect. That’s at the heart of why we wrote this book.”

And speaking of Christmas, the book might make the perfect gift. It can be purchased through Venture Publishing at www.venturepublish.com or at www.amazon.com.

PHOTOS: The new book from Progressive Management, The Sportsman’s Voice: Hunting and Fishing in America, highlights the history and success story of hunting, fishing and wildlife management in the U.S., which is the envy of the world. Lead author, Mark Damian Duda, points specifically to the Alabama Youth Dove Hunt Program as a model to use for recruitment and retention of hunters.

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