By Doug Leier
One of the nationwide hunting and fishing agency priorities is referred to as R3. Recruiting new participants; retaining the current; and reactivating past hunters and anglers who have fallen away from outdoor recreation.
Cayla Bendel is the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s R3 coordinator. She joins a growing list of conservation agency individuals spearheading R3 around the country.
“I’m a born and raised Minnesota ‘blue-plater,’ and from ‘the cities’ at that. My greatest childhood memories were those spent on Dad’s Alumacraft, tucked away in a quiet bay on a lake near Brainerd, Minn., paddling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and spending nights around the fire with family and friends. Today, I proudly call North Dakota home,” Bendel said.
One of the most important elements of hunting and fishing is the role users play in paying the bills. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 – known as the Pittman-Robertson Act – placed an 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition and allocated those funds to wildlife habitat restoration, improvements and research. The act was shortly followed by funding for fisheries with the Dingell-Johnson Act.
As of 2020, North Dakota has received more than $182 million from the Pittman-Robertson Act alone, Bendel said, and she, like all hunters and anglers, benefits from those dollars almost every time she heads afield. From state-owned or managed wildlife management areas, to public shooting ranges, to our beloved and strong Private Land Open To Sportsmen program, and to fish stocking and boat ramps from the Dingell-Johnson side.
From 2011-16, the United States lost 2.2 million hunters nationwide amidst population increases. Now, here in North Dakota, Bendel said we were actually one of four states that did not experience per capita hunting license decrease during that time. However, in 1991, 29% of hunters were over the age of 45, but by 2016, 55% were over the age of 45.
The reality is the demographic of our hunters is graying and they’re not being replaced. Almost all our hunting and fishing license sales reflect declines in people ages 17-44. North Dakota may not be seeing immediate hunting number drop offs, but it would be irresponsible to think it can’t or won’t happen. We hope it won’t but hoping for the best isn’t a plan to succeed.
Bendel circles back to why her position is necessary.
“I’m joining the growing number of wildlife positions across the country devoted to R3 – recruiting, retaining and reactivating the next generation of hunters, anglers and conservationists. I am the R3 coordinator for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and can’t do this alone,” Bendel said.
“It will require many organizations, partnerships and all of you because I know how you feel about this state and our resources,” she added. “I know you’re passionate about the decisions we make here at Game and Fish because they affect your livelihood and your family’s most sacred traditions.“
The importance of R3 is evidenced by the allocation of Department resources, but ironically one person certainly can’t shoulder the responsibility, which is spread to all hunters and anglers past, current and still to come.
Featured Photo: Recruiting new participants; retaining the current; and reactivating past hunters and anglers who have fallen away from outdoor recreation is a nationwide priority. NDG&F Photo.