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SnakebyteXX
03-10-2005, 07:41 AM
By ANGIE WAGNER
ASSOCIATED PRESS

As a teenager, Bryan Dinkins and his grandfather would go out before dawn on many a winter morning to hunt duck. They would quietly discuss school and life while waiting for the birds.

Dinkins, now 40, hasn't been hunting in six years. He's too busy, he says, and anyway it would take six hours to drive somewhere to hunt ducks in California.

It's a common lament in the new century, a time when urbanization and hectic lives can get in the way of hunting traditions. Hunting now is not just about when to go, but where to go? How much will it cost? And, more than ever, who will go?

"If we think about how the country was explored and developed, it was hunters, it was trappers," said Steve Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "If we lost that, I think in some way we lose part of the American character."

Across the country, the number of hunters has declined by more than 1 million from 1991 to 2001, or 7.3 percent, according to Census Bureau and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The drop was greater in the West - 9.6 percent.

Hunting has survived through generations by fathers passing the tradition on to their children, and families bonding during hunting trips. But many people have given up on hunting, or never tried it at all.

The number of hunters in the West dropped by 236,000 in the decade ending in 2001, even though the population jumped. California had the largest drop - 38.6 percent - followed by Colorado, Arizona and Nevada. Washington, Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii had slight declines.

Most hunters said in the 2001 Census and in the Fish and Wildlife survey that they did not hunt as much as they would have liked because they were too busy or had family or work obligations. The reasons were the same for those who gave up hunting altogether, another study found.

As the West becomes more urban, with new residents flocking to cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, development inevitably leads to fewer hunting lands.

"A generation or so ago, it was still possible to take a son and daughter out to the country, knock on a farmer's door and be out in the field hunting in pretty short order," said George Cooper, spokesman for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

"That's how young people got into hunting. Loss of habitat due to sprawl and landowner worries about liability have made that sort of old-fashioned access hard to come by," he said.

Those who rely on private land often find they must pay for the privilege, and it can be expensive. Duck hunting for the season may cost $10,000 on a private hunting preserve.

Eventually, it will be up to children to carry on the tradition. But a study by Responsive Management, a public opinion research firm for natural resources issues, found if people are not exposed to hunting before they are 16 or 17, they likely will not hunt as adults.

And the more people grow up in urban areas, the less likely they are to be exposed to the hunting culture, said Mark Damian Duda, executive director of the group.

"That's the big, broad demographic trend that's taken its toll on hunting," he said.

Many states are promoting hunting by sponsoring outreach programs and youth hunts.

But the state fish and wildlife agencies that are working to recruit and retain hunters face their own threats. Most depend on hunting license sales for money, and as the number of hunters drops, programs are cut and jobs are left unfilled.

California is suffering the worst. The game warden staff has been cut by 25 percent over the last few years; budgets for wildlife managers have been slashed; maintenance is lacking.

"We had counties where we didn't even have a warden present," said Lorna Bernard, spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

It's a delicate relationship that hunters and state agencies share. States depend on hunters to help fund their conservation projects and to control animal populations.

"Traditionally, the people that have paid for and cared for wildlife have been hunters and anglers," said Steve Huffaker, director of Idaho Fish and Game and past president of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

"If we lose that support base, then we're concerned who's going to be there to take up the needs of fish and wildlife in the future," he said.

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Associated Press writer Bob Anez in Helena, Mont., contributed to this report. Wagner reported from Las Vegas.

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On the Net:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/

Responsive Management: http://www.responsivemanagement.com/

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership: http://www.trcp.org/

International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies: http://www.iafwa.org/

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link (http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/nat-gen/2005/mar/10/031002863.html)