DNR's goal: Recruit, retain, reactivate hunters

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GREEN BAY, Wis (WBAY) -- (9/10/2018) - Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources joined a nationwide effort to stem the tide of declining numbers of hunters and anglers. As the average age of hunters and anglers continues to increase, there's a sense of urgency.

The DNR's newly formed R3 Team is leading the charge to recruit, retain and reactivate.

"So recruit new hunters and anglers, retain those that we've recruited or retain those that are existing hunters and anglers, and reactivate people who may have dropped out of hunting and angling in past years," said Keith Warnke, R3 Team Supervisor.

Warnke said the number of gun deer hunters in Wisconsin peaked in the year 2000, and since then, license sales data shows a 15-percent decline.

While the number of anglers has stayed steady, Warnke said demographic analysis shows a decline is on the horizon.

And yet nationally, Wisconsin is ahead of the curve.

"We haven't begun the steep decline yet as many state have already experienced, so this is a growing nationwide effort, there are R3 coordinators in almost every state now and our key next steps are to develop effective, adaptive strategies that we can actually measure our results to be sure we're having the intended effect," said Warnke.

Over the past decade, the DNR placed a big effort on recruiting young hunters through learn to hunt and mentor programs.

They say it's helped and it will continue, but now, their sites are set on a new age range, young adults and young families, people in their 20s and 30s.

"There are several reasons that that's important, one is they're very interested in conservation, local sustainable food, getting their own food and being self-sufficient, but secondly, they have money, they have skills, they have knowledge, they have cars, they can drive and they're going to have kids who are 7 or 8 years old soon too," said Warnke.

Warnke is currently traveling the state to meet with DNR personnel to explain the R3 Team goals, and to develop communication strategies, especially with social media.

Warnke said there's a lot at stake.

Hunting generates an economic impact of $4 billion a year, and funds much of the state's conservation efforts.

And that's not all.

"But then there's that outdoor lifestyle, the reason we go out and sit in an ice shanty and have fun with friends, the collecting of local, sustainable food, the passion that we have for environment and conservation as Wisconsinites, that's another important reason we need to maintain and increase hunting and angling," says Warnke.