This New York Times article explores the relationship between hunting and wildlife habitat restoration and preservation and what declining numbers of hunters across the nation may mean for the future of wildlife in the U.S.

Classroom desks and office cubicles stand empty. Hunters in blaze orange stand out like drops of bright paint against brown fields. Parking lots at bars are crowded with pickup trucks draped with deer carcasses.


_This is Wisconsin’s gun deer season, a tradition as engrained in the state’s identity as beer, brats and cheese. But as the years slide by, fewer people seem to care. Hunting’s popularity has waned across much of the country as housing tracts replace forests, aging hunters hang up their guns and youngsters sit down in front of Facebook rather than venture outdoors.
The fall-off could have far-reaching consequences beyond the beginning of the end for an American tradition, hunting enthusiasts say. With fewer hunters, there is less revenue for a multibillion-dollar industry and government conservation efforts.

“As paradoxical as it may seem, if hunting were to disappear, a large amount of the funding that goes to restore all sorts of wildlife habitat, game and nongame species alike, would disappear,” said Steve Sanetti, the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Hunting generates billions in retail sales and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into government conservation efforts annually through license sales and federal taxes on firearms and ammunition sales.

But fewer hunters are involved in the sport each year. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 33 states had declines in hunting license sales over the last two decades. The sharpest drop was in Massachusetts, where there has been a 50 percent falloff in hunting license sales during that time.

Millions of Americans still hunt, of course, and some states have had increases in license sales over the last 20 years. But the overarching decline has outdoor advocates worried.

Suburban sprawl has consumed prime hunting land, forcing many hunters to choose between driving for hours to get to the woods or staying home.

Gerald Feaser, a Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman, said his state’s urban footprint had nearly doubled since the early 1980s.

“Whole farms turned into housing developments or shopping malls,” he said. “Once that land is lost, you can’t get it back.”

Fewer youngsters are taking up hunting, too.

“Fifty years ago, a lot of kids would hunt and fish and be outside,” said Mark Damian Duda, the executive director of Responsive Management, a natural resources research group in Virginia. “Now it’s easier to sit in your playroom and play video games.”

The drop-offs have hurt state conservation agencies that rely heavily on revenue from license sales.

In Massachusetts, the lost revenue has hampered the state’s habitat restoration efforts and its ability to repair its vehicles.

Michigan has had a 31 percent drop in license sales over the last 20 years, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. As a result of the ensuing revenue losses, wildlife officials have not been able to fill 35 vacant positions and have taken a less-detailed approach to managing the deer population.

In Pennsylvania, license sales have dipped 20 percent over the last two decades. The state’s game commission has cut spending by about $1 million in the last two years, cutting back efforts to repopulate pheasants, leaving 30 positions unfilled and asking employees to repair their own vehicles, Feaser said.

Decreasing license sales in Wisconsin, one of the nation’s destination spots for deer hunting, has not been as drastic, falling 2.5 percent over the last 20 years. But the drop-off has grown steeper in the last decade. License sales for the state’s traditional November firearms deer hunt dropped 9 percent from 2000 to 2009.

To help stave off the losses, states and outdoors groups have been increasing their efforts to retain and recruit hunters. The United States Sportsmen’s Alliance, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation began the program Families Afield in 2005, which calls for states to scale back youth hunting regulations. Thirty states have since reduced or eliminated minimum hunting ages, said Bill Brassard Jr., a National Shooting Sports Foundation spokesman._

What do you think can be done in your area to bring new hunters into the fold and get former hunters back into their camo and blaze orange?