By Doug Rizio, New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection
Most in the world of conservation know that participation in hunting and fishing have been declining for decades, and countless resources have been spent trying to understand why the next generations aren’t taking over the tradition. But what do young people themselves have to say about it?
Take it from me, a certified millennial – there are many underlying reasons why we’re not engaging in these activities in the same numbers as our predecessors. From increasing urbanization and evolving demographics to shifting political ideologies and emerging dietary trends, the world is changing. However, while hunting and fishing are certainly in a funk, these factors aren’t the end of the line for them. If anything, the future we’re heading towards holds even more opportunities for the next generations to get back into outdoor recreation, and some of them are unexpected.
Here are just a few things to consider when talking to Gens. X, Y, Z and beyond about how hunting and fishing can benefit us and the things we care about.
In my highly inhabited home state of New Jersey, many of us living in big cities or sprawling suburban areas don’t believe that hunting and fishing is an option to begin with, even if we were always interested in exploring them. Those are things that “other folks” do “out there” in the more rural parts of the country.
Yet despite prevailing beliefs, even in the most densely populated state in the nation there are plenty of places for people to hunt and fish. The Garden State features over 120 wildlife management areas with 360,000 total acres of land, and most of us live within an hour of at least one. Whether the closest highway to home is the Garden State Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike, great hunting and fishing is just a few exits away.
Funding for Conservation Causes
And while more members of my generation claim to care about the environment than ever before, what many may not realize is that most of the funding for fish and wildlife conservation and habitat restoration comes from fishing and hunting licenses and equipment sales. Understanding that hunting and fishing purchases directly help the causes we hold dear could be an extra motivating factor in bringing more of us on board.
However, protecting local fish and wildlife populations and preventing habitat destruction in your home state is only a part of the larger picture when it comes to environmentalism. For the next generations, one of the most important social movements of our time is the fight against climate change. Yet while the clearest culprit of this crisis is the burning of fossil fuels, another fact that many people probably don’t know is that 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from industrial animal agriculture. This might not pose a problem for the consumption habits of vegans and vegetarians, but for those of us who continue to depend on animal proteins for sustenance, we are faced with the quandary of upholding an industry that contributes to one of the planet’s greatest ecological predicaments. Fortunately, fishing and hunting fresh game present perfect alternatives to purchasing factory-farmed meat.
But the carbon cost of raising livestock and transporting it over long distances isn’t the only reason to adopt a locavore lifestyle. Until the recent pandemic, few predicted just how fragile our complex networks of trade could truly be in a global crisis. Now, after suffering from innumerable supply chain issues, the regular shortage of goods, and the ever-rising prices of food, the grocery store doesn’t seem as reliable as it used to. These days, fishing and hunting isn’t just a traditional pastime; it’s a method of securing a precious meal and a measure of learning self-sufficiency in an era of dependence on unpredictable systems.
Whether we are helping ourselves by harvesting natural animal proteins, helping our home states by funding local fish and wildlife conservation, or helping the whole planet by reducing our reliance on carbon-intensive industries, hunting and fishing are things that every young person should seriously consider adopting. So – the next time you talk to anyone from generation X, Y, Z and beyond about these activities, think about the things they care about the most.