On the Ridge: The least I can do

Published: 3/17/2021 6:21:46 PM
Modified: 3/17/2021 6:21:45 PM

Based on feedback I received from my last column, I thought maybe a “part two” about MassWildlife’s proposed Hunting and Fishing License Fee increases might be appropriate. Some of the comments regarding my take on the topic surprised me, but as an outdoor writer for over four decades, who has been fortunate enough to be published, I’ve received plenty of negative input from both friend and foe alike.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I would just let it go and move on. As a writer, I can sometimes benefit from constructive criticism. But this time, there was nothing constructive about it! So, I re-read that column again, just to reflect on it, think about the feedback, and decide if maybe I did write something that was offensive or simply wrong. And the answer is, I did not. But let’s still revisit the topic, while again keeping it real and sticking with just the facts.

Like it or not, the number of residents in Massachusetts who hunt has dwindled to less than 1% of the state’s population. And a recent nationwide survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that only 5 percent of Americans, 16 years of age and older, hunt. That is half of what it was 50 years ago, and the decline is expected to accelerate over the next decade. Yet for many, the passion for hunting is still there.

But at the same time, stop into a sporting goods store and ask about it, (anybody notice that Dick’s in Hadley no longer has a hunting department), inquire at a rural convenience store, or a local restaurant, and you’ll hear, “we don’t have the business from hunters that we use to have, they just aren’t showing up anymore! Some who morally oppose hunting are welcoming this shift, but it’s also leading to something a lot more serious.

For many hunters in Massachusetts, and beyond, there’s a wall ahead of us that is rapidly approaching. That wall is age. And that age is Sixty-five, when the average hunter stops buying hunting licenses. Nearly a third of all hunters in the U.S. are baby boomers. And they’ve supported hunted as no other generation ever has! That said, the oldest Boomers are already aging out of the sport. And the youngest, at age 54, are only about a decade away from joining them. Moreover, when put on a timeline, that group of older hunters looks like a wave moving through time, and it begins to hit that wall around the age of 65. What this means is the way conservation has been funded in the past is simply not going to be sufficient in the future! And in Massachusetts a major challenge to find a means of how MassWildlife is funded, is upon us!

It’s true, that for decades, hunters and anglers have funded a disproportionate share of the costs associated with MassWildlife’s work to provide nature-based programs to protect, manage, and restore our state’s wildlife. However, their current funding model is simply no longer sustainable. The fee increases that MassWildlife seek are now a critical means for the continued maintenance of the public trust, which is to protect, restore, and manage “all wildlife resources” for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone in the Commonwealth. I’m not saying that I’m in favor of the complete package they’re proposing, because I don’t enjoy seeing increases any more than you do. But this has become a much larger issue than just that.

The time is now long overdue for this important conversation to begin in earnest. We must start searching for ways to diversify funding for MassWildlife to a more equitable, and sustainable, financial source for the future. Our very existence as conservationists depends on it. Everyone, not just hunters, benefit from access to nature, nature-based recreation, and healthy fish and wildlife populations. The pandemic brought this to full transparency and highlighted the importance for all of us, hikers, anglers, bikers, birdwatchers, photographers, etc., to be able to connect with nature and the outdoors for our overall health and well-being.

Now, after 25 years without an increase in license fees, we’re being asked to kick in more — and rightfully so because it’s long overdue. But it’s also time to get busy with finding new ways to diversify the funding source. Other states have done this — and Massachusetts can do it too — by exploring options such as increased general funding or dedicated funding models tied to small portions of the sales tax, sporting goods sales tax, or lottery proceeds — options already embraced by other states. Options that we must now also embrace to save what we now have!

Bottom line for me? I’m going to hunt for as long as I can, and you can mark me on that one! And I’ll do whatever it takes to help our cause in the process. Because based on what I’ve received from MassWildlife in return, for over 46 years as a sportsman in this state, I believe it’s the very least I can do.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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