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Nationally, participation in hunting and fishing has risen since 2006, according to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released last week. However, that upward trend doesn’t apply to Montana.

Between 2008 and 2010, the most recent years for which data are available, Montana saw a decline of almost 10,000 hunters. Between 2011 and 2009, angler numbers fell 35,500.

The Fish and Wildlife Service performs a survey every five years. Its most recent analysis showed that the number of hunters and anglers age 16 and older rose from 33.9 million in 2006 to 37.4 million in 2011. Nationally, 33.1 million people fished while 13.7 million hunted. Since 9.4 million people do both, the numbers don’t add up 37.4 million.

State-specific numbers won’t be released until next year, although preliminary figures were issued in September.

Montana’s opposite

In contrast to what’s occurring nationally, a look at Montana’s figures, compiled by Fish, Wildlife and Parks, shows a downward trend in state and nonresident hunters and anglers.

The number of licensed anglers in the state fell from more than 391,000 in 2009 to almost 353,000 in 2011. But 2009 was also a record-setting year for fishing license sales. It was nearly matched in 1993, the year after the fly-fishing movie “A River Runs Through It” was released and sparked national interest.

Even ignoring 2009’s record year, though, fishing license sales have still fallen. The question is whether the change was an oddity because of the poor economy, or does it signal a steady decline? That may be revealed when the 2012 figures for Montana are released by FWP in advance of the 2013 legislative session.

The number of hunters in Montana also is declining.

In 2010, almost 192,400 residents and more than 43,230 nonresidents hunted in the state for a total of nearly 235,630 hunters. That compared to more than 199,730 resident and 45,800 nonresident hunters, or more than 245,530 total, in 2008. The last time hunter participation was lower than in 2010 was 2006.

Number of participants

The national survey reaffirms that hunters and anglers are still a small portion of the overall population.

The fishing participation rate nationally is only 14 percent. The mountain states region, which includes Montana and Wyoming, can boast a 15 percent participation rate. The west north-central states, which includes the Dakotas and Minnesota, leads the nation with a 23 percent participation rate. Oddly, the watery Pacific states -- Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska -- have a participation rate of only 9 percent, the lowest in the nation.

Hunting participation is even lower, at 6 percent nationally. The mountain states echo that rate, at 6 percent, while the east south-central region, which includes Mississippi and Alabama, leads with 11 percent participation. Again, the Pacific states are lowest at only 3 percent.

The hunting population is heavily male (89 percent), white (only 6 percent of hunters declared themselves nonwhite) and educated, with 53 percent having attended college.

Fishing is only a little more balanced, with 86 percent of participants white and 73 percent male. Fifty-seven percent of U.S. anglers have attended college.

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Hunting is also most popular among those age 45 to 54 (3.1 million), closely followed by the next age group, 55-64 (2.8 million). Together, those two groups make up 43 percent of the U.S. hunting population. The heavy representation of older men does not bode well for hunting’s future. The trend is also bad for state wildlife agencies that rely on hunter dollars to fund their programs and staff.

Money for wildlife

Despite relatively low participation, hunting and angling expenditures accounted for about $89.8 billion in 2011. The bulk of that, $43.2 billion, was spent on equipment; the next-largest portion, $32.2 billion, went to spending on trips, including gas and lodging.

Conservation programs benefit from dollars spent on firearms, ammunition, archery and angling equipment, because they are federally taxed. In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributed more than $14 billion to programs from those revenues.

More watchers

The survey once again shows how popular wildlife watching has become. An estimated 71.8 million people, or 29 percent of Americans 16 and older, take part in everything from feeding birds to photographing wildlife.

States in the east north-central region, which includes Wisconsin and Michigan, lead this category in participation with 35 percent. In comparison, the mountain states come in at 28 percent, just below the national average, and the Pacific states have 24 percent participation.

Wildlife watchers spent an estimated $54.9 billion, 49 percent of which went to equipment. Although also predominantly white, wildlife watchers were more evenly divided between the sexes with 49 percent females.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report is the 12th since the survey began tracking hunting and angling participation rates in 1955. All together, interviews were completed for 11,330 anglers and hunters and 9,329 wildlife watchers by the U.S. Census Bureau to gather the data.

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.