Changes in waterfowl hunting will likely be influenced by changes in the number of waterfowl hunters. About 15 million people hunted in 2001, about 6 percent of the U.S. population. But numbers have been steadily declining, and at current trends, there could be only about 11.5 million hunters, or about 3 percent of the 2050 population. Also, if long-term trends continue, waterfowl hunter numbers could slide from about 1.2 million now to a little over 800,000 by 2050. The erosion of hunter numbers would result in reduced financial support for conservation and management of wildlife habitats, and perhaps a decline in hunters’ political influence.
In addition, without changes in current hunter recruitment trends, these declines will accelerate. The percentage of 16- to 17-year-olds who hunt declined from 10 percent to 8 percent between 1991 and 2001, while the percentage of hunters over age 35 steadily increased from 53 percent to 67 percent. Hunters are growing old and leaving the sport faster than we are replacing ourselves.
By 2050, habitat changes could significantly affect duck hunting. If changes in the PPR and western boreal forest result in smaller duck populations, reductions in hunting seasons would likely follow. On the other hand, some goose populations, such as snow geese and resident Canada geese, could be larger and could support more liberal seasons. There could also be a northerly shift in wintering areas, with midlatitude states like Missouri becoming better known as hunting hot spots.
Public hunting areas would perhaps be less crowded if hunter numbers dwindle. But because hunting license sales support management of public areas, they would likely be less well managed or even closed. Private lands would likely provide some phenomenal hunting because loss of other habitats could concentrate birds on these intensively managed areas. However, these areas would be exclusive and unaffordable to most hunters.
Can We Influence the Future of Waterfowl and Hunting?
The straightforward answer to that question is “YES!” Despite the seriousness of the challenges facing us, we should not passively accept this glance at the possible world of 2050 as a hopeless, “woe-is-us” scenario. Joel Barker also said, “You can and should shape your own future, because if you don’t someone else surely will.” To shape our own future and the future of ducks and duck hunting is the challenge we must accept.
There are indeed things that we cannot change. But we can influence many other things if we collectively choose to act upon the ones that are most important to waterfowl. There are many things that each of us can and should do (see sidebar on page 108). The needs are urgent. If we are going to secure our own future, we cannot put off taking action; we cannot assume “someone else” will take care of it. “Someone else” is busily shaping our future for us right now, so it is important that each of us acts now. The future duck hunting of those seven-year-olds you know, and everyone like them, depends on it.
Dr. Scott Yaich is director of conservation operations at DU’s national headquarters in Memphis.