Recently, my grandson, Sterling, and I spent an afternoon taking photos in the woods behind the house. During our “photo safari,” I noticed that he was not focused on the same things I was. When I downloaded his photos, I was struck by his different perspectives. He shot at different angles, at different subjects and was not focused on detail as much as he was the wide-angle.
During our afternoon field trip, he pointed out deer scrapes and buck rubs, got his feet wet investigating the edge of the pond and had me stop in my tracks to listen to Canada geese. During the same outing, however, he also described how I could survive if lost in the Amazon—the result of his watching a cable TV program.
My personal background involves parents who grew up with two-row corn pickers and milked cows by hand. I hunted and fished with my dad, spent weekends at my grandfather’s farm and trapped muskrats to pay for college. In contrast, my grandson lives in a condo, walks across the street to school and plays computer games.
Changes in generational perspectives signal important changes in the future of conservation in Missouri. Undoubtedly, hunting and fishing will continue to be important to many Missourians. However, the proportion of the state’s population that hunts or fishes might be lower than in the past.
Information from the Department’s database on hunting and fishing permits points to potentially dramatic demographic changes on the horizon. The baby boomers, who comprise a substantial proportion of the traditional support for conservation, are aging. Our traditional hunting and angling cohorts, who now are middle-aged or older, are not being replaced by younger participants at the same rate they were “recruited” years ago. For example, the number of resident firearms deer hunters has dropped by 22,000 during the last five years despite tremendous increases in youth participation. Projections through the next few decades show a loss of more than 110,000 resident firearms deer hunters, 200,000 anglers and 130,000 small-game hunters.
Where will the concern and support for the condition of Missouri’s natural resources come from in the next few decades? The Department, along with our conservation partners, is actively looking for ways to engage traditional stakeholders—hunters and anglers. At the same time, we are seeking to provide greater opportunities for Missourians to connect with conservation in their communities, promote conservation on private land and enjoy outdoor recreation on conservation areas—interests that are not necessarily hunting and fishing related. Ensuring clean and healthy waters, forests and functioning natural communities will require broad-based and passionate conservation advocacy.
My grandson and I have had some early, and what I believe might become formative, experiences. His first crappie in the boat was exclaimed to be “awesome.” We spent two days late last duck season calling flock after flock of mallards into the decoys. We shared a fire in the evening and watched the moon rise, satellites pass overhead and a couple of spectacular meteorites leave trails halfway across the night sky.
I’m not sure that my grandson will be an avid hunter or angler when he gets older, though I hope so; I could use the help putting out decoys! He’s been exposed to duck boats, tree stands and crankbaits. But he also has an emerging appreciation for campfires, binoculars, telephoto lenses and feeding winter birds.
I have two clear challenges here—actually, I believe they are obligations. First, as a mentor, to provide an opportunity for my grandson to appreciate, understand and support Missouri’s conservation heritage. Second, as someone who shares responsibility for the changing face of conservation, to take time to focus through his lens and appreciate, understand and support the next generation of conservationists.
Dale Humburg, resource science division chief
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