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Enthusiasm fades for hunting traditions

Associated Press / December 13, 2010

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MADISON, Wis. — This is Wisconsin’s gun deer season, a tradition as engrained in this rugged state’s identity as beer, brats, and cheese. But as the years slide by, fewer people seem to care.

Hunting’s popularity has waned across much of the country as housing tracts replace forests, aging hunters hang up their guns, and children plop down in front of Facebook rather than venture outside.

The falloff could have far-reaching consequences, hunting enthusiasts say. Fewer hunters mean less revenue for a multibillion dollar industry and government conservation efforts. It also signals what could be the beginning of the end of an American tradition.

Hunting generates billions in retail sales and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into government conservation efforts annually through license sales and federal taxes on firearms and ammunition sales.

But fewer hunters return to the sport each year. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 33 states saw declines in hunting license sales over the past two decades. The sharpest drop was in Massachusetts, which has seen a 50 percent falloff in hunting license sales during that time.

Millions still hunt, and some states have seen increases in license sales in the last 20 years. But the overarching decline has outdoor advocates worried.

In Massachusetts, the lost revenue has hampered the state’s habitat restoration efforts and its ability to repair its vehicles. State wildlife officials have pooled resources with other conservation groups and pursue federal grants more aggressively, said Marion Larson, a biologist with the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game.

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