You’ve heard the lament: Americans spend too much time experiencing life via video games and computers and not enough living it by getting out and doing things.

When it comes to outdoor sports such as hunting and fishing, there is good reason to worry about any decline in participation. Outdoor enthusiasts, notably people who hunt and fish, are key sources of financing conservation efforts and a major economic engine with the amount spent on the pastimes.

Good news: A new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows 101.6 million Americans — 40 percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older — participated in wildlife-related activities in 2016 – specifically hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching.

The survey illustrates gains in wildlife watching and fishing, with moderate declines in the number of hunters nationally. The findings reflect a continued interest in engaging in the outdoors. These activities are drivers behind an economic powerhouse, where participants spent $156 billion — the most in the last 25 years, adjusted for inflation.

The survey, the 13th in a series conducted nearly every five years since 1955, shows the most substantial increases in participation involve wildlife-watching — observing and photographing wildlife. The report indicates these activities surged 20 percent from 2011 to 2016, from 71.8 million to 86 million participants.

Expenditures by wildlife watchers also rose sharply — 28 percent — between 2011 and 2016, from $59.1 billion to $75.9 billion. Around-the-home wildlife-watching increased 18 percent from 2011, from 68.6 million in 2011 to 81.1 million participants in 2016.

More Americans also went fishing. The report shows an 8 percent increase in angling participation since 2011, from 33.1 million anglers to 35.8 million in 2016. Total expenditures by anglers nationwide rose 2 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $45 billion to $46.1 billion.

Hunting participation dropped by about 2 million participants but still remained strong at 11.5 million hunters. Total expenditures by hunters declined 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion. However, expenditures for related items such as taxidermy and camping equipment experienced a 27 percent uptick, and hunting trip-related expenses increased 15 percent.

Perhaps the numbers do not reflect one reality of hunting. Hunters are among the most avid wildlife watchers and increasingly qualify as participants in that activity, particularly close to home in areas such as The T&D Region – an outdoors paradise.

Yet any decline in hunting numbers is a source of concern and all the more reason to be glad about U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s enthusiastic support of hunting and fishing and his efforts to expand opportunities – particularly for young people.

With agencies such as the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and private groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation also educating people, the hope is that enthusiasm for the outdoors will result in even more appreciation for hunting and fishing and their importance.

As Zinke states: “Hunters and anglers are at the backbone of American conservation, so the more sportsmen and women we have, the better off our wildlife will be.”


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