Waterfowl hunting plays important roles in the conservation of waterfowl species and wetlands. A challenge facing waterfowl hunting associations, and waterfowl and wetlands managers across North America, is the decline of participation in waterfowl hunting. This project is part of a larger program of research that is examining the recruitment and retention of waterfowl hunters in the Prairies. In particular, this project will document patterns of hunting participation in Alberta, and examine factors that contribute to hunting participation, lapse, and non-participation.
Waterfowl hunters provide financial support for conservation programs, and habitat acquisition, protection, restoration and enhancement. Hunters also play critical roles in the monitoring of waterfowl populations, and in population management and funding of management activities. Waterfowl hunting provides the impetus for some people to interact with natural wetland areas, and may form the basis for their impressions of these natural areas as a whole. Understanding the interface between waterfowl hunters and natural wetland areas is important in addressing growing public concerns with, and expectations of, natural resource and wildlife management. However, information is needed to better understand the dynamics of waterfowl hunting participation: what factors influence hunter recruitment and retention, and what can be done to provide mentorship to new hunters so that they are able to realize the benefits that hunting can provide? McFarlane et al. (1999) identified four factors that influence hunting participation:
- The introduction and socialization of new hunters;
- Increased urbanization;
- Institutional elements of costs and regulation complexity; and
- Environmental factors such as crowding and land use.
A challenge facing the management of waterfowl hunting in Alberta is a lack of current information about participants’ motivations for participation, their preferences for management objectives, and the constraints to participation faced by current and prospective hunters. Although national surveys have documented recreation use, activity categories have not been consistent to allow for the identification of participation trends.
Past studies have documented declining hunter participation in Alberta:
- Participation in hunting decreased 28% between 1990 and 2000; and
- Hunter retention has also been in decline, as 30- 35% of hunters quit hunting after one year of engagement in the activity during that same period (Watson & Boxall, 2005).
There is only tangential evidence that the decline in hunting participation has changed in the last thirteen years. The decline in hunting participation is often framed as a result of simple structural constraints (i.e., firearm restrictions), an ageing hunter population, and a lack of understanding about land access and complex harvest regulations.
Despite declines in Canadian waterfowl hunting participation, some parts of North America are seeing a resurgence of hunters and anglers (Responsive Management 2013); this suggests that our understanding of the constraints to waterfowl hunting participation are not complete. It is essential that we understand and market to the correct motivations of new, prospective, and retain hunters if we are to maintain interest levels.