In an effort to improve the quality of young people’s lives, several states have introduced or passed legislation to require some form of educational opportunity for hunting, fishing and nature appreciation as part of a student’s elective academic curriculum. These programs aim to connect students with the natural world and can play an important role in addressing public health concerns associated with sedentary behavior and obesity.
The health problems associated with poor dietary choices and the absence of physical activity, particularly among America’s youth, are a growing concern among both physicians and lawmakers. In recent years, children have elected to spend more of their free time in front of screens instead of in the outdoors enjoying the time-honored traditions of hunting and angling. According to a 2011 survey, 88% of youth 13-18 years old said that they use the internet on a daily basis, with 69% saying that they watch TV or play video games every day. Less than 40% of those youth said that they hunt, fish, hike, etc., on a weekly basis. After a year of distanced online learning for 93% of households with school-age children, the number of kids using the internet has increased and the number of those going outside has decreased during COVID-19. In an effort to improve the quality of young people’s lives, several states have introduced legislation to require hunting, angling and nature appreciation in schools. This legislation can provide programs that institute hunting and angling education courses as part of the student’s elective academic curriculum. These programs are founded on the notion that instruction in hunting, angling, and/or nature appreciation can restore a desire for young boys and girls to spend more time being active in the outdoors and provide a boost in the physical and mental health of our nation’s youth.
Points of Interest
- In 2014, Virgnia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Delegate Scott Lingamfelter introduced House Bill 307, which was signed into law. The legislation permits local school boards to allow Hunter Education courses as an after-school program for students in grades 7-12.
- In 2010, the Michigan Legislature approved House Resolution 200 to express support for public policies that promote outdoor activities for Michigan’s children.
- A lack of routine contact with nature may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This unwanted side-effect of the electronic age is called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods.
- Starting in the spring of 2019, two eastern Iowa school districts made hunter safety part of their P.E. curriculum.
- In 2022, West Virginia passed an act to expand the state’s hunter safety classes to be offered in every middle school and high school in the state.
The following states have enacted hunting, angling, and nature appreciation in school legislation using the language below:
- Colorado §24-33-109.5: “There is hereby created in the office of the executive director the Colorado Kids Outdoors grant program to fund opportunities for Colorado youth to participate in outdoor activities in the state, including but not limited to programs that emphasize the environment and experiential, field-based learning.”
- West Virginia §18-2-8a: “(2) The hunter safety orientation program is voluntary to students; (3) The hunter safety orientation program shall include instruction relating to: (A) The protection of lives and property against loss or damage as a result of the improper use of firearms; and (B) The proper use of firearms in hunting, sport competition, and the care and safety of firearms in the home; (4) The hunter safety orientation program may use materials prepared by any national nonprofit membership organization which has as one of its purposes the training of people in marksmanship and the safe handling and use of firearms; and (5) The hunter safety orientation program shall be conducted by an instructor employed or certified by the Division of Natural Resources or who has other training necessary to conduct the program as determined by the state board. (d) The Division of Natural Resources shall issue a certificate of training, required by §20-2-30a of this code, to any student who completes the hunter safety orientation program.”
- Virginia §22.1-204.2: “Local school boards may provide after-school hunter safety education programs for students in the school division in grades seven through 12. Each student shall bear the cost of participating in such programs…”
- New Mexico HJM 3: “Be it resolved by the legislature of the state of New Mexico that the importance of environmental education that contributes to the education, health and responsible behavior of New Mexicans be affirmed by the legislature; and be it further resolved that the governor be requested to declare a week in April ‘Environmental Education Week’ and to encourage all kindergarten through twelfth grade teachers to teach their students outdoors for at least one hour that week and encourage state agencies to celebrate environmental education through existing programs…
- Louisiana HCR 65: “Urges and requests the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to work with the Department of Education and the Louisiana School Boards Association to provide hunter education as a voluntary physical education elective in public high schools.”
- Illinois H 3462: “A school district may offer its students a course on hunting safety as part of its curriculum during the school day or as part of an after-school program. The State Board of Education may prepare and make available to school boards resources on hunting safety that may be used as guidelines for the development of a course under this Section.”
State legislatures should consider introducing legislation that offers hunting, angling, and nature appreciation in schools, or to offer a hunter’s education elective course. These programs work to recruit new hunters and anglers – something that will ultimately benefit the individual student and state conservation efforts because of the license fees and tax-generated monies.