Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Rocky Mountain States Senior Coordinator
Why it Matters: One needs to look no further than the current COVID-19 pandemic to understand the benefits of getting outside for peoples mental and physical health. While there are many outdoor activities that provide mental and physical benefits, there are few that also directly benefit conservation and wildlife management like hunting. As such, it is important that the outdoor sporting community does its best to remove as many barriers to participation as possible. By providing students with the opportunity to take hunter education as an elective in the seventh grade, students will no longer be inadvertently excluded from taking hunter education based on parent work schedules or socioeconomic limitations, providing many students with a learning opportunity that they would not have had otherwise.
In a time when most of America’s youth are more connected to their phones than the outdoors, it is incumbent upon us to provide today’s young adults with plenty of diverse opportunities to become immersed in nature. By connecting students with the natural world, outdoor sporting activities like hunting can play an important role in addressing public health concerns associated with sedentary behavior, obesity, and mental health. Since the late 1940’s, hunter education has served an important role in getting people outside by teaching current and future sportspeople about hunting laws, fair chase ethic, wildlife conservation, proper species identification, responsible hunting practices, and safe firearm handling skills. Not only has hunter education helped make sportspeople safer when afield, it has aided in recruiting young adults and their parents to the outdoor sporting community, thus, supporting the American System of Conservation Funding.
While there are opportunities for interested individuals to participate in hunter education courses outside of the academic setting, those programs generally occur after hours and on weekends. If a young adult’s parent(s) is unable or unavailable to take them to and from the classes, their youthful curiosity and budding interest is quickly stifled. Colorado HB22-1168 directly addresses these barriers to participation by allowing public school seventh graders the opportunity to take hunter education as an elective with parental approval. Students would no longer be inadvertently excluded from taking hunter education based on parent work schedules or socioeconomic limitations, allowing young adults the freedom to explore their curiosity in a safe and supervised manner. While HB22-1168 does not mandate that hunter education be offered in public schools, it does allow public schools to pick what is best for their students in choosing whether to offer it as an elective. Furthermore, HB22-1168 requires that the program be offered for free to the school and students, taught by an instructor certified by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), satisfies the same requirements as a hunter education course certified by CPW, and offers students the opportunity to opt-out of any hands-on activities without penalty.
The beauty of offering hunter education in public schools is that it provides many students with a learning opportunity that they would not have had otherwise. While simply participating in a hunter education program does not automatically turn an individual into a lifelong hunter, it does provide them with critical knowledge about firearms, conservation, wildlife management, and ethics that they will be able to carry with them for the remainder of their lives. In a time when conservation and wildlife management illiteracy seem to be rampant, it’s initiatives like HB22-1168 that can truly make a difference.
With bipartisan and bicameral support, HB22-1168 has been assigned to the Colorado House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee with a hearing scheduled for February 24, 2022.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?