Date of this Version
Fontaine JJ, Fedele AD, Wszola LS, Messinger LN, Chizinski CJ, Lusk JJ, Decker KL, Taylor JS, Stuber EF. 2019. Hunters and their perceptions of public access: a view from afield. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 10(2):xx-xx; e1944-687X. doi: https://doi.org/10.3996/082018-JFWM-077
Declining hunter participation threatens cultural traditions and public support for conservation, warranting examination of the forces behind the downward trajectory. Access to lands for hunting, an often-cited reason for non participation, may play a critical role in the retention and recruitment of hunters. Meeting the access needs of a diverse hunting constituency requires understanding how hunters use and perceive access opportunities, particularly public-access sites. Given that perceptions of access are entirely place based and degrade with time, traditional postseason survey methods may fail to adequately quantify the value of public access to the hunting constituency. To overcome the potential limitations of postseason surveys, we conducted on-site assessments of hunter perceptions of habitat quality, game abundance, ease of access, and crowding as well as whether the experience met the hunters’ expectations and their likelihood to return to hunt. Over 3 y, we interviewed 3,248 parties of which 71.5% were hunting. Most parties (65.9%) reported having no private access within the region of Nebraska where they were interviewed. Parties (67.6%) were largely limited to two or fewer hunters, most of whom were adult males (84.3%) who were, on average, 41.2 y old. The perception of public-access sites was generally positive, but 43.1% of parties indicated that game abundance was below average despite 59.2% of parties seeing game and 37.3% harvesting at least one animal. Similar to other explorations of hunter satisfaction, we found game abundance, and in particular harvest success, had the most consistent relationship with hunter perception of public access. By surveying multiple types of hunters across sites that encompass a range of social and ecological conditions, we gained a broader understanding of how hunters perceive public access in real time, which will help to inform future management decisions to foster and improve public-access programs.
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