Despite national trends, hunting and fishing remain strong in Utah

Thursday , April 05, 2018 - 5:15 AM

Hunting in the U.S. is on the decline, but Utah seems to be bucking the trend.

National reports describe men alone in their shacks, reminiscing about past trips, years ago, with big parties of hunting buddies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found around half as many Americans hunt as they did 50 years ago. Sportsmen have called it a “call to action,” concerned about what it means for the future of conservation. 

In West Haven, however, Brittney Fernandez just took hunter education and is looking forward to trips this season, spending quality time with her husband. 

In Salt Lake City, Ashley Kijowski and her boyfriend Kole Nordmann are teaching themselves archery to have a new way to explore the outdoors and a sustainable source of meat.

In Ogden, Lisa Ward is passing on her love of hunting to her six grandchildren. She wants them to learn gun safety and a sense of respect for their environment. 

“Hunting is a family tradition,” she said. “You learn how to respect your food. Also, you learn so much about being outdoors — you have to know the area that you hunt, you have to know the plants and animals that are there, there’s so much involved in hunting.”

Utah, unlike much of the country, is seeing steady growth in its hunting numbers. That’s good for Utah’s wildlife management.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources uses revenue from hunting and fishing licenses and harvest permits to manage all kinds of habitat, benefiting everything from bison and mule deer to boreal toads and sage grouse. 

The state also receives federal aid from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for excise taxes on things like rifles, ammunition and fishing tackle that are used for DWR programs.

“Fortunately — for wildlife in Utah and for everyone who cares about wildlife in the state — participation in fishing and hunting not only remains strong but is growing,” said Mark Hadely, spokesman for DWR. 

Despite a dip in the aftermath of the recession, Utah’s revenue from fishing and hunting is growing, too.

“The big thing is if you like viewing wildlife, which is a growing thing in Utah, too, all the habitat work and things we’ve done to make our herds and fish populations healthy out there, all of that comes form the sportsman’s dollar,” said Kenny Johnson, DWR’s administrative services chief.

It’s a lot tougher for wildlife managers to collect revenue from Utahns snapping photos of birds at the Great Salt Lake or watching an elk rut in the Uinta Mountains. That’s why the state relies on the dollars rolling in from permits and licenses.

“With some of the (wildlife watching) gear that’s taxed, like binoculars, they might be contributing to the excise tax part a little bit,” Johnson said. “But conservation itself and mission for us is definitely paid for by the people who do like to hunt and fish.”

Fishing participation is especially strong in Utah. In 2016, nearly 497,000 people spent time fishing in the state compared to 244,000 who hunted (although thousands of Utahns participate in both).

“Hunting gets a lot of the attention, it’s more glamorous and sometimes more controversial, but seeing angling go up makes me kind of proud,” Johnson said.

Both sports are still dominated by men, but there’s been growth in the amount of women participating. One in four anglers is female, a number that has held steady in recent years according to DWR data. Nearly one out of every six hunters in 2016 was female, compared to one out of every eight in 2012. 

And while people outside the state pay big bucks for trophy hunting permits in Utah — a limited entry permit for bighorn sheep goes for $1,500 for non-residents, for example — the vast majority of hunters and anglers in Utah are state residents. 

That’s not to say hunting and fishing participation in Utah isn’t under threat. As with other states, the amount of wildlife habitat is shrinking as it gets gobbled up by development.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service information shows the amount of young people participating in the sports is dwindling, too.

In 1996, 25 percent of anglers and 33 percent of hunters were 16 to 24 years old. Numbers are still being finalized for 2016, but the agency’s 2011 data shows participation among those age groups was so low it couldn’t be calculated. 

Utah’s hunting also seems to be suffering from its own popularity. 

“The days of walking into a Walmart and buying a deer permit are over. It’s such a limited permit compared to who wants to get them,” Johnson said. “We have a ton of demand for same supply of permits.”

Still, as Utah’s wildlife managers listen to the gripes and concerns building throughout the nation, they say they’re glad the state is in a good place by comparison. The trick is to keep that good thing going.

“Nationally it looks a bit scarier in some of these states, but in Utah we have some good things on the ground to keep populations healthy and to keep interest up for people,” Johnson said. “It definitely helps us make sure the wildlife in the state is protected and we’re managing them the very best we can.”

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiainthefield or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen. 

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