Such was the warning issued Friday by a prominent national conservation leader to about 400 people attending the annual Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Roundtable in Bloomington.
“This funding model has worked for decades,” Becky Humphries, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation, headquartered in Edgefield, S.C., said in the event’s keynote address. “But we need to modernize it.”
A former director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and onetime Ducks Unlimited executive, Humphries argued that as “baby boomers start dropping off the charts and from the hunting ranks … we need to get more people into the outdoors.”
Some of these recruits, she said, might not look like traditional hunters and anglers, and they might not be driven “by the same core values.”
“But we need to accept these people and make them feel good about their experiences,” she said.
Ironically, perhaps, Humphries spoke to an invitation-only audience of DNR stakeholders that, by appearance and interest, seemed little changed from attendees of roundtables a decade and more ago.
Mostly white, mostly middle-aged or older, and mostly representing the ranks of Minnesota hunters and anglers, the group seemed to lack the diversity Humphries suggested was critical to sustaining stewardship of Minnesota’s, and the nation’s, lands, waters and wildlife.
“We have to have new programs for [parents inexperienced in hunting, fishing and similar activities] who want to take their kids outdoors without appearing stupid,” Humphries said, adding that women comprise the fastest-growing segment of new hunters.
“If Mama hunts, the family hunts,” said Humphries, a trained wildlife biologist and lifelong hunter and angler.
Preceding Humphries on the dais, newly appointed DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen introduced herself as a hunter and angler “whose biggest thrill is to see the look on my son’s face when he catches a big bass.”
Strommen is the first woman to hold the DNR commissioner’s post, and as such symbolizes the expansion that is underway — though perhaps only nascently — among both outdoors enthusiasts and outdoors leaders.
Hoping to further that enlargement, Strommen said, “Thinking about who is not in a key position … but should be … is something I hope to bring to the DNR over the next four years.”
Humphries stressed that so long as resource stewardship funding is linked primarily to hunting and fishing license sales, efforts to successfully conserve the nation’s land and water are at risk.
“Modernizing” the Dingell-Johnson and Pittman-Robertson acts so their funds can be used to recruit, retain and reactivate anglers and hunters would help broaden the funding effort, she said.
The two funds are supported by federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment.
Legislation also has been introduced in the U.S. House, Humphries said, that shifts royalties from gas, oil and other resources extracted from public lands to land and water conservation.
“This would redirect $1.3 billion to fish and wildlife,” she said, adding, “I believe with enough hard work and enough voices we will be successful.”
To the degree the DNR Roundtable is representative of Minnesota’s conservation movers and shakers — and it is — it should undergo a seismic shift to include, among other outdoors enthusiasts, more silent-sport and non-consumptive users.
Some of these people are hikers, climbers or paddlers, and still others back-country adventurers, cross-country skiers, runners, bird watchers or bikers. In short — forgive the generalization — they’re more the REI crowd than the Cabela’s crowd.
In most cases, these people pay few if any user fees, and most aren’t required to purchase licenses to pursue their outdoors passions. But they do contribute to conservation — as all Minnesotans do — via the fractional sales tax dedicated to fish, game, wildlife, parks, trails, clean water, cultural heritage and the arts by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment approved by voters in 2008.
Should they pay more? I would argue yes. In fact, their funding — among that of others — will be required if and when, as predicted, hunter and angler numbers continue to decline.
Toward that end, more of these nontraditional outdoors users, along with their issues and concerns, should be welcomed at future DNR Roundtables.
The time, as Humphries suggests, has come.
But beware: The land and water management viewpoints of these Minnesotans might differ, sometimes significantly, from those of hunters and anglers.
As Humphries said Friday, “All of us are going to have to make a few changes.’’