By Joel Hodgdon, Central Midwestern States Coordinator
Due to the efforts of state fish and wildlife agencies working in partnership with the sportsmen and women who fund these agencies’ conservation efforts through the American System of Conservation Funding, the populations of three high-profile wildlife species across the Midwest region are rebounding and expanding their range after years of decline.
- Missouri: Black bear populations have made a historic comeback. Reintroduced about 60 years ago into Arkansas, biologists believe that the black bear populations and territory ranges have expanded into the southern part of Missouri. In an ongoing study that began in 2012, recent population estimates by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDOC) show that the state’s black bear population is around 350, with the vast majority living in the southern part of the state. Recent DNA evidence shows that a remnant population of native black bears may have combined with the reintroduced bears migrating from Arkansas. MDOC biologists will begin the process of evaluating a possible hunting season for the species once population levels hit 500.
- Nebraska: Mountain lions (also called cougar or puma) have recently recolonized three areas in Nebraska, prompting the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to hold the inaugural mountain lion harvest season in 2014. Commission biologists annually evaluate mountain lion population levels and demographics to ensure that populations are maintained at sustainable levels, and the funding generated from the sales of mountain lion permits is used for the research and management of the species.
- Wisconsin: After more than 22 years of conservation efforts, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is poised to hold the first managed elk hunt in the state’s history during the fall of 2018. The elk population at Clam Lake has increased over the years to levels that the Wisconsin DNR biologists consider sustainable for a limited, bull-only hunt. Funds raised from the sale of elk tag applications and license fees are earmarked for elk management and research in Wisconsin.
For over 80 years, sportsmen and women have played an integral and unique role in providing the vast majority of conservation funding in the United States through the American System of Conservation Funding program. A “user-pays, public benefits” structure, hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters provide funds through excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle, motorboat fuel, and archery equipment, as well as by purchasing state hunting and fishing licenses, which are then distributed to state fish and wildlife agencies and provide many and varied benefits for the public at large. In 2017 alone, sportsmen and women provided about $63 million to the Missouri Department of Conservation, $34 million to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and $100 million in funding to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
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- Improve hunter and target shooter involvement in regulatory and legislative processes. (11.67%)
- Enact or expand temporary hunter education deferral programs (apprentice license programs, multiyear options, programs for all first-time hunters regardless of age, and programs promoting hunting of multiple game species). (11.67%)
- Offer shooting sports and hunter education as school activities and recreation programs. (65.00%)
- Link existing programming into family-oriented organizations (such as churches and home-school groups) where participants will have the social support to continue. (11.67%)