TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas wildlife officials are working on plans to stop a continuing drop in the number of young people who are interested in hunting, in part because the decline could lead to fewer dollars for conservation.
For years, Kansas encouraged young hunters by conducting guided hunts.
But those classes are losing participants for a variety of reasons, including more entertainment options, more Kansas children living in cities and a lack of public hunting land, Kansas News Service reported.
"We're at that point where it's like, hey, the bells and whistles are going off," said Tim Donges, president of the Kansas branch of Quality Deer Management, a nonprofit hunting organization. "We've got a problem."
Kansas remains popular for out-of-state hunters, with the number of licenses and permits more than doubling over the past two decades to over 150,000. But in-state licenses have declined about 14%.
Hunting licenses contribute about $28 million to the state's conservation coffers, which gets about 60% of its funding from the licenses. Because out-of-state licenses cost more, their popularity has offset having fewer Kansas hunters. But 2019 was the first in five years where non-resident sales declined.
Hunting advocates say one factor contributing to the decline is a lack of public hunting land. Less than 2% Kansas land is free public hunting land, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Tourism.
"The state behind us is Rhode Island, so it's not great," said Brad Loveless, department secretary.
Past recruitment efforts emphasized the Kansas' hunting heritage. "Carry on the tradition" was the subtitle for Kansas' previous hunter recruitment plan, which was created in the 1990s under former Gov. Bill Graves.
The message is being changed to emphasize the conservation aspects of hunting. Last year, 23-year-old Tanna Fanshier was hired to be Wildlife and Tourism's new hunting recruitment coordinator. She said the emphasis on the state's hunting tradition doesn't resonate with young Kansans, who are more open to causes like protecting wildlife.
"We're kind of the 'Go Fund Me' generation," Fanshier said. "We want to give our money to something that's important to us."
The full recruitment plan is about six months away. The state isn't trying to return the number of Kansas hunters to what it was 50 years ago, Fanshier said. The goals are to keep the hunting tradition alive, fill conservations coffers and encourage urban dwellers to spend more time connecting with the Kansas prairie.