Alaska editorial: Raising doubts about the hunting, fishing numbers

Posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It comes as little surprise that the percentage of Americans who hunt and fish is declining. That's what you'd expect in a society that has steadily become less rural and more urban and suburban for several generations.

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But according to a nationwide U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, both hunting and fishing have declined in Alaska - hunting by 24 percent, fishing by 26 percent since 2001.


Those are big numbers, and a cold slap to our state's mystique of hardy folks taking half-ton moose and rod-bending kings.

At the same time, the survey found "wildlife viewing" in Alaska increased by 22 percent. That's not hard to believe, given the increasing popularity of photography, ecotourism and adventures like whitewater rafting, mountain biking and hiking.

So, praise be to Bambi's mother, have we gone from red-blooded to green-haloed? Can't pull the trigger, can't set the hook?

"You sure don't see it in the field," said Bruce Bartley, information officer for the state Department of Fish and Game. "It just seems like there's more people everywhere."

You don't see it in Fish and Game's licensing statistics, either.

In 2006, the state sold 499,451 fishing licenses (including to nonresidents). That's a 10 percent increase from 2001, when the state sold 453,219 fishing licenses.

Even granted that not all license buyers go fishing, the state's license numbers put the feds' survey numbers into question. What does appear to be true is that a slightly smaller percentage of Alaskans are hunting and fishing.

In 2001, 39 percent of Alaskans age 16 and older had fishing licenses. In 2006, that number was 37 percent.

Comparable figures for hunting showed little change, from 18.6 percent in 2001 to 18.2 percent in 2006.

It's hard to see how the federal survey could find a 25 percent drop in hunting and fishing in Alaska over the last five years. We still have more hunters than permits, and combat fishing is still a current event, not history.

The increase reported in all the "viewing" activities is welcome. The more Alaskans head out into the wild, the stronger the constituency to take care of wild areas and the healthier we'll tend to be. Those activities and hunting and fishing are not mutually exclusive, and that's good.

Crunch numbers as you will, but as long as salmon spawn, trout rise and moose browse, Alaska will be a hunting and fishing state.

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