By LANE BLACKMER
Capital News Service
LANSING—The number of hunters is gradually decreasing, so officials and advocates are aiming to increase license sales in Michigan this season.
The economy, limited hunting land, urbanization and age restrictions are to blame, the advocates say.
To help reverse this trend, Michigan received a $500,000 federal grant to give farmers an incentive to increase access to hunting land, and advocates are proposing a bill to eliminate the minimum hunting age.
License sales have been shrinking about 1-to-2 percent a year, said Mary Dettloff, press secretary at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE).
Hunting is important not only for animal population control, she said, but also to fund DNRE operations, such as wildlife management, habitat work and biologists’ salaries.
“The money has to go back into game management,” she said. “And if we are not bringing in a good amount of revenue every year, there are certain program cuts that have to occur.”
Not only is hunting essential to funding the DNRE, she said, but it contributes $1 billion to the state’s economy yearly through purchases of ammunition, guns, fuel and food. And that, she said, creates jobs.
A shortage of hunters also contributes to deer overpopulation, she said, especially in Southern Michigan where hunting grounds are limited. People may hunt only on preserves, federal and state land, their own property and private land with the owners’ permission.
The new $500,000 federal grant will pay farmers with a minimum of 40 acres to allow hunters on their land.
Jordan Burroughs, a wildlife outreach specialist at Michigan State University, said hunting on farms helps to reduce crop damage.
“It’s becoming more and more difficult to control the deer population in Southwest Michigan,” she said. “Hunters do play a huge role in managing overabundant or nuisance wildlife populations.”
Burroughs said the over-abundance of deer contribute to crop damage, vehicle accidents, and an increased potential for disease.
Hunting preserves are also suffering, DNRE’s Dettloff said. In 2008, there were 585 preserves, and this year there are 442.
Brian Shoemaker, manager of the Raging Rooster Hunting Preserve in Coopersville, said preserves are expensive to operate, and follows economic trends.
Burroughs said there are two main reasons hunting is declining. First, communities are becoming more urban and people are moving away from rural areas.
“Hunters have farther to go to find hunting,” said Burroughs.
Second, she said as a social group, hunters are aging because typically youth aren’t as involved with hunting as they used to be.
Dave Nyberg, legislative affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), said for every 100 adults who no longer hunt, there are only 26 replacements.
“Youth are gobbled up by busy schedules and the media buffet that’s at their disposal,” he said. “This is a national problem, not just a Michigan problem.”
Although Michigan recently lowered the minimum age for bow hunting from 12 to 10 years, and for firearm hunting from 14 to 12, MUCC plans to propose legislation to eliminate the hunting age, but requires adults to accompany young hunters.
“It’s defined to improve youth hunting safety but also designed to improve hunter recruitment,” Nyberg said. “Michigan is one of the most restrictive states when it comes to getting kids outdoors to hunt.”
He said Pennsylvania adopted a similar law and saw licensed hunters jump from about 33,000 to almost 44,000.
“Hunter decline isn’t something that isn’t going on throughout the country,” Nyberg said. “In Michigan we believe one of the main factors is the restrictive laws.”
Meanwhile, Dettloff said, the DNRE is campaigning to get youths and women more involved in hunting.
“Research shows that if mom is out in the woods, that children will likely follow and want to participate,” said Dettloff.