Kansas officials concerned drop in young hunters will decrease funding for conservation
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas wildlife officials are working on plans to stop a continuing drop in the number of young people who are interested in hunting, in part because the decline could lead to fewer dollars for conservation.
For years, Kansas encouraged young hunters by conducting guided hunts. But those classes are losing participants for a variety of reasons, including more entertainment options, more Kansas children living in cities and a lack of public hunting land, Kansas News Service reported .
“We’re at that point where it’s like, hey, the bells and whistles are going off,” Tim Donges, president of the Kansas branch of Quality Deer Management, a nonprofit hunting organization, said “We’ve got a problem.”
Kansas remains popular for out-of-state hunters, with the number of licenses and permits more than doubling over the past two decades to over 150,000. However, in-state licenses have declined about 14 percent.
Hunting licenses contribute about $28 million to the state’s conservation coffers, which gets about 60% of its funding from the licenses. Because out-of-state licenses cost more, their popularity has offset having fewer Kansas hunters. 2019 was the first in five years where non-resident sales declined.
Hunting advocates say one factor contributing to the decline is a lack of public hunting land. Less than 2 percent of Kansas land is free public hunting land, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Tourism.
“The state behind us is Rhode Island, so it’s not great,” Brad Loveless, department secretary, said.
Past recruitment efforts emphasized the Kansas’ hunting heritage. “Carry on the tradition” was the subtitle for Kansas’ previous hunter recruitment plan, which was created in the 1990s under former Gov. Bill Graves.
The message is being changed to emphasize the conservation aspects of hunting. Last year, 23-year-old Tanna Fanshier was hired to be Wildlife and Tourism’s new hunting recruitment coordinator. She said the emphasis on the state’s hunting tradition doesn’t resonate with young Kansans, who are more open to causes like protecting wildlife.
“We’re kind of the ‘Go Fund Me’ generation,” Fanshier said. “We want to give our money to something that’s important to us.”
The department also is trying to attract under-represented groups, with efforts such as women-only hunting education events that will be led by women instructors.
“My dad and brothers hunted, and I didn’t necessarily feel welcome to go out with them even though they invited me,” Fanshier said.
Kansas is also considering gear-rental programs at colleges for students who can’t afford to buy hunting equipment, as well as a field-to-fork program that encourages urban Kansans who want fresh food. Fanshier has experimented with giving away samples of meat from hunts to show shoppers that game doesn’t have to taste gamey.
The full recruitment plan is about six months away. The state isn’t trying to return the number of Kansas hunters to what it was 50 years ago, Fanshier said. The goals are to keep the hunting tradition alive, fill conservations coffers and encourage urban dwellers to spend more time connecting with the Kansas prairie.