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More Questions Than Answers

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open water fishing

As many of you know I serve as the R3 coordinator for the Department. R3 stands for recruit, retain and reactivate hunters and anglers. It is my job (amongst a host of “other duties as assigned”), to keep a pulse on our hunting and fishing participation, find ways to encourage more people to hunt or fish and determine what we as a Department can do to support both new and existing sportsmen and women.

Increasingly, that requires trying to figure out what makes somebody want to hunt and fish, which requires the knowledge and study of humans, the most difficult of “wildlife” to understand. And at the risk of losing my job, some days I just don’t know the answers.

Last week I attended the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies annual conference in Sioux Falls, at which all the folks working diligently in the R3 community in this region and elsewhere, met to exchange ideas, share new strategies and research studies and network with other conservation professionals who have some impact on hunting and fishing participation.

It’s been a while since I’ve attended a conference, and I left with the familiar feeling of being burnt out because of the introvert that I am. I also left with a lot more questions than answers.

ice fishing

License sales and conservation funding aside (which are no doubt an incredibly important piece of this puzzle), most of us sincerely just want to make sure that 100 years from now, hunting, fishing and the outdoors are still relevant to Americans.

There’s evidence to support that might not be the case as this country becomes increasingly diverse, urban and disconnected from nature.

And that’s sometimes hard to remember in a state like North Dakota, where we’re still very rural and a lot more of the population is connected to the land than in other states.

ice fishing

And rest assured, these same people are still very aware of the challenges current hunters and anglers face; access, crowding, fish and game populations, costs and time, to name a few.

Time is one of the challenges that continues to fuel my pessimism. During the pandemic, we saw nation and statewide license sales skyrocket, because people had the time to go outside.

Now that they don’t, what (if anything) can I do to either make it take less time (e.g. urban fisheries) or convince them it’s worth their time again?

While I should have been soaking in a luxurious few days with a king bed all to myself and nobody to wake me in the middle of the night, I was instead losing sleep over what makes somebody a lifelong hunter or angler.

Fisch with walleyes

What worked for me? Does that still work? What specific challenges do North Dakotans face? What about women? And moms more specifically? What about all the people who just want more deer and more deer tags? What about kids who grow up in this lifestyle but then move away and don’t continue it as an adult? Do we even want more lifelong hunters or anglers, or simply more people to try it every few years to sustain funding with minimal impact to our resources? Is it license sales or people to care about conservation and wildlife habitat or both? Is anybody even authorized to make these decisions?

All of this is so overwhelming, which often nudges me to simply turn off my “work” brain and go fishing with my family.

But in the back of my mind, as I turn to the one thing that has remained a constant in my life, the one thing that always brings me peace, is how much I think people’s lives would be more enriched if they too could or would just go fishing more often.

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