Sportsmen and Women Move into the Digital Frontier

By Zach Widner, Northwest States Senior Manager

Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to make half-a-dozen trips to the state of Alaska through working with legislators and partners on sportsmen’s policy issues in the state, assisting with the annual Kenai River Classic, and embarking on both DIY and guided fishing trips on the Kenai Peninsula. On my trips to Alaska, right alongside my work binder, spinning rod, waterproof boots, and jacket, has been my smartphone. This is true for other hunters and anglers as well, as smartphones allow outdoorsmen and women to document successful hunting and fishing trips with higher quality photos and video, and to download detailed maps that provide demarcations between public and private lands, among other features.

During the 2018 Alaska legislative session, seeking a creative method to allow hunters and anglers to more easily display their hunting and fishing licenses, and to mitigate issues with lost or damaged licenses, Alaska Legislative Outdoor Heritage Caucus Member Representative Dan Saddler introduced House Bill 260, which would allow those hunting and fishing in Alaska to carry and display electronic copies of their licenses via smartphone.

As Rep. Saddler noted, it is not uncommon for traditional hardcopy licenses to become damaged by water and extreme weather conditions while in the field. Alaska currently allows for the digital purchase of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses, making digital copies of these items a logical next step. The bill would allow users to continue carrying hardcopies of their licenses. HB 260, with the backing of the sportsmen’s community, passed with strong support in the House and Senate during the legislative session, and is presently awaiting signature from Governor’s Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Bill Walker.

Approximately 20 states allow license holders to carry digital hunting and/or fishing licenses. Several states have created smartphone apps that allow users to easily download and display licenses, some of which allow hunters harvesting fish and/or wildlife to record and report the harvest to their state’s fish and wildlife agency in real time. Benefits associated with digital licenses include making it easier and more convenient for hunters, anglers, and trappers to obtain and carry required licenses, improved compliance with state fish and wildlife management laws, and making it easier for enforcement officials to verify that users are legal.

As anyone who’s spent any amount of time in Alaska can tell you; rain, wind, snow, and ice do not deter Alaskans from heading into the field and onto the water to put meat in the freezer. Sheep hunters traverse extremely rugged, icy ridges looking for an elusive ram, and moose hunters forge through bogs and impossibly thick brush in order to find a bull. Anglers targeting early and late salmon runs have no issue enduring pounding rain and whipping winds in order to feed their families. In these pursuits, it’s not at all unheard of for hunting and fishing licenses to become damaged to the point of being indecipherable for both the license holder and for Alaska Wildlife Troopers checking licenses. Along with the other benefits noted above, utilizing new technology via smartphones to help mitigate this issue is a win-win for sportsmen and women in Alaska.

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