The DNR will hold a wingding next month to explore ways to get more kids outdoors, especially fishing and hunting.
The gathering in Brooklyn Center on Aug. 26-27 likely won’t break new ground in the years-old attempt to get more young people onto a lake or river, or into a field or forest.
In the 1960s and 1970s, about 40 percent of Minnesotans age 16 and older bought a fishing license, according to the DNR. Today it’s 27 percent. (Actual participant numbers have stayed fairly steady, however, as the state population has increased.)
The challenge to retain hunter and angler participation rates at previous high levels is formidable for three reasons.
• As baby boomers age, fewer can participate outdoors as they did previously.
• Generations following the boomers aren’t as large. Consequently, to retain hunter and angler numbers at previous levels, greater percentages of these follow-on generations would have to hunt or fish.
• That isn’t happening. In fact, smaller percentages of these smaller generations are hunting and fishing. Reasons are many. Chief is America’s rapid urbanization. Also there are more single-parent families; less free time; less access to the “outdoors” and the equipment necessary to participate in it; a greater emphasis on school team sports; and more reliance by kids on TV, computers and other electronic gizmos.
Some of these changes can’t be reversed. It’s unlikely, for example, a significant rural renaissance will occur anytime soon in which people migrate from cities to the countryside to learn old-time ways that include hunting and fishing.
But progress can be made. Two observations:
• State agencies and nonprofits that have tried for the past 15 years to increase hunting and fishing participation have taken the wrong approach by focusing almost solely on one- and two-day exposure outings intended to “hook” kids as lifetime hunters and anglers. Better to teach interested parents how to share these activities with their kids and develop programs, as necessary, to help the parents lead their kids outdoors. (The DNR is moving in this direction.)
• Wildlife groups that have been successful in lobbying for more habitat money at the Legislature should turn their attention to the state’s education system and lobby for required K-12 conservation classes. Resource-literate kids might or might not become hunters or anglers. But they’ll be more environmentally aware and help ensure the state a brighter future.
Perhaps better approaches will be developed next month in Brooklyn Center. All that’s certain is that what we’re doing now isn’t working.