The Forest Service regularly takes the pulse of the Nation's wildlife resources as required by the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA). A project conducted by scientists with the Rocky Mountain Research Station and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented current and historical trends in hunting and wildlife watching using data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.
They found that hunting participation continues to decline across all regions of the United states. As of 2006, only 5.5 percent of Americans over the age of 16 hunt wildlife. There were fewer numbers of primary participants in recreational hunting, potentially due to the increasingly diverse mix of values and attitudes held by the American public toward wildlife. Wildlife viewing, tracked for the past 25 years, fluctuated, with approximately 10 percent of the population watching away from home as of 2006. Since the last RPA assessment in 2000, Americans spent more per day on both hunting and wildlife watching. This smaller but dedicated portion of the population makes valuable contributions to the overall economy.
The unequal distribution of public lands and costs to obtain access to private lands also shape wildlife hunting and viewing participation. Public land fees for hunting are less expensive and more stable over time, but public lands are unevenly distributed across the Unitd States, with far more land available in the west.
Findings from this study help resource specialists explore the potential impacts of declining hunting participation, identify regions and activities experiencing the greatest decline, anticipate changes to communities dependent on wildlife-associated recreation, and consider new mechanisms to fund wildlife management. Such efforts are essential to maintaining healthy wildlife populations and recreational opportunities in a changing America.