COLUMN: Decline in hunting could hurt Michigan’s conservation efforts

Categories: Lightner News

Sitting in my deer blind during this firearms season, I had some time to reflect on the status of hunting in Michigan – and I must admit I’m a bit concerned that our hunting heritage is falling to the wayside.

Our state’s abundant natural resources provide a beautiful backdrop to get out into the woods and participate in the sport, but the number of people hunting in Michigan has decreased significantly each year.

In 2018, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports an estimated 554,331 hunters spent time afield – that’s down about 3 percent from 2017. The number of individuals who purchased deer hunting licenses decreased 18 percent between 2008 and 2018.

Those numbers are critical because hunting plays an important role in ensuring our treasured heritage remains here for future generations to enjoy. License sales make up the largest source of support for efforts to conserve Michigan’s wildlife, public lands and waters.

Last year, hunting and fishing license sales made up 20 percent of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ entire annual budget, equal to $83.5 million. These funds were used to aid the recovery of endangered and threatened species, including restoring thousands of acres of habitat and wetlands.

I can’t help but wonder whether the high cost of tags is driving outdoor enthusiasts away from the sport. I personally know numerous people who hunt to provide meat for their family, not just for sport, and the rising cost of tags limits their ability to legally procure their bounty.

The prices for non-resident licenses are particularly high. They are required to pay a base license fee of a whopping $150, plus an extra $20 for each deer tag. The non-resident price includes anyone whose primary residence is outside of Michigan – even college students who move away to school and family members who want to hunt on family property while they’re home for the holidays.

Being a part of a hunting family, our favorite tradition happens now – when my family comes home for Thanksgiving. For a working-class family, having to pay at least $170 just to come home to hunt the land they grew up on is a burden – especially when they’ve already budgeted to spend their money on travel expenses. I want those traditions of hunting on Thanksgiving morning with everyone to continue, and I will work to protect that freedom.

It’s time to take a serious look at whether the high cost to hunt in Michigan is driving people away from the sport. The DNR might very well collect more revenue for its conservation efforts if prices were low enough to attract more hunters.

Increasing participation in hunting will also result in more revenue to conserve and protect the natural resources our state has to offer – and that’s a win for everyone.

We can all play a part in increasing participation by taking a child, grandchild, cousin or friend along to help them develop an appreciation for one of Michigan’s most time-honored traditions. Some of my most treasured memories have been made bonding with my sons while waiting for a prized buck to wander within range. I want that tradition to continue on for them to enjoy with their children, grandchildren and generations to come.

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State Rep. Sarah Lightner is serving her first term in the Michigan House representing residents in portions of Jackson, Lenawee and Eaton counties.