Only 5 percent of Americans 16 years and older hunt, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study published in 2017. Fifty years ago, 10 percent of Americans 16 years and older hunted.
In Washington, there has been an 11 percent drop in state hunting license holders over the past 10 years. Even more worrying for state officials, youth hunting participation is down 22 percent.

With the declining trends in participation, there is a growing concern at the national level about how conservation will be funded over time. Nationwide, excise taxes on guns, ammunition and fishing gear alongside license fees account for 60% of the funding for state wildlife agencies, according to a National Public Radio story. Hunting and fishing license fees and associated federal money make up more than one-third of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual operating budget. Efforts to monetize other forms of recreation – such as the Discover Pass and vanity license plates – are attempts to replace decreasing hunting and fishing license sales.

Unless new revenue sources are found or approved by the Legislature, WDFW will have an estimated shortfall north of $30 million. In 2017, WDFW asked the Legislature to increase hunting and fishing fees. Lawmakers did not pass the bill, leaving the department with a $25 million deficit. The state has implemented programs to try to retain hunters and recruit new ones. But with decreasing land access, changing social priorities and increased urbanization, it is unlikely that hunters and anglers will provide a significant economic contribution in the future.

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