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BRAD DOKKEN: DNR event tackles tough issue

Less than two weeks from now, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is hosting a two-day conference to tackle the issue of declining participation in hunting and fishing.

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Less than two weeks from now, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is hosting a two-day conference to tackle the issue of declining participation in hunting and fishing.

Set for Aug. 26 and 27, the conference at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minn., will include presentations from national and local experts and breakout sessions to address opportunities and challenges to recruiting hunters and anglers, the DNR said in a news release.

Previous commitments prevent me from attending the conference, but I'll be curious to see what comes out of it. Rural states such as North Dakota continue to do pretty well in attracting kids to hunting and fishing, but there's no question participation on a national scale is declining.

Recruiting and retaining hunters and anglers, whether women, kids or even adult men who've never had the opportunity, is crucial to the future of hunting and fishing and the outdoor heritage we often take for granted. Revenue generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and the sales taxes hunters and anglers pay on gear and fuel are crucial sources of conservation funding.

Without that funding, everybody loses.

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The DNR news release announcing the conference got me to thinking about kids in particular, and why young people either take up hunting and fishing or choose to spend their time in other ways.

Having an adult mentor who hunts and fishes is part of the equation, I believe, but the challenges today go deeper than that.

There are no easy answers.

I had the good fortune of growing up in a rural area where access to hunting was as easy as walking out the back door, and good fishing holes weren't more than a few miles down the road. Those opportunities continue to draw me back to where I grew up. Regardless of my address, it's home and always will be.

Fewer people today have that sense of place, those ties to the land or those opportunities.

From sports to video games and social media, today's young people have so many options for spending their spare time. At the risk of sounding like an old person, many of those opportunities hadn't been invented when I was that age.

We made the best of what we had-yikes, now I really sound like an old person-and the best of what we had was hunting and fishing. It's human nature to take the path of least resistance, and if the barriers to hunting and fishing are too formidable, it stands to reason kids are going to find easier, more accessible ways to spend their time.

Smarter people than me are investing considerable time and effort into breaking down those barriers and reversing the trend, and I wish them luck.

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I still think the key element in all of this is opportunity.

I can think of a handful of kids-they're in their 20s now, but I still think of them as kids-who bucked the trend and are either avid hunters, avid anglers or both. Some grew up in rural areas, where access to the outdoors remains relatively easy, but others grew up in or near the Twin Cities.

They got hooked on the outdoors because they had the opportunity to get hooked. Not everyone enjoys hunting and fishing, of course, but the young people I've seen embrace the outdoors are every bit as passionate about the pastime as I was, and perhaps even more.

Look at the popularity of high school trapshooting, which has absolutely exploded in Minnesota and is on a rapid ascent in North Dakota, as well. Young people are embracing the shooting sports because of adult volunteers and mentors and because of shooting ranges that offer places for the kids to learn how to shoot and handle firearms safely.

If even a small percentage of those youths take up hunting as a result, it's only a matter of time before the downtrend reverses itself.

Again, it comes down to opportunity.

It won't be easy, though. Despite the numerous "take a kid fishing" and "take a kid hunting" programs and youth seasons that are offered across the country, society is more urbanized, and people simply aren't as close to the land as they once were.

People lead busy lives, and finding the time to get outside isn't likely to get any easier.

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Workshops and "take a kid" events are great, but the opportunities can't end there. How to provide the opportunities for not only young people, but adults new to hunting and fishing, to take the next step remains the challenge.

Hopefully, events like the upcoming Minnesota conference will help pave the way for more people of all ages to hunt and fish.

• If you go:

The DNR is encouraging volunteers and staff of organizations or agencies and members of the public who are involved or interested in helping to preserve the outdoors heritage to attend the conference. There is to charge for registration or meals. Registration is available online at mndnr.gov/r3.

Related Topics: HUNTINGFISHING
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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