Alberta landowners’ views and attitudes toward hunters are being gauged through a survey by the Alberta Conservation Association.
Whether owners of private land allow hunting or don’t allow hunting, the ACA wants to learn the reasons, with a view toward improving the experience for both landowners and hunters.
“We know from past surveys … that a lot of landowners, the majority of landowners are actually open to having hunters on their land, whether that’s because they hunt themselves and so they’re comfortable with it or whether its because they’re just proud of the resources on their land,” said ACA biologist Robert Anderson, who is leading the survey project.
“Do those trends still hold? Are landowners’ opinions changing? Are they still valuing the same things? And what is it that future hunters need to know about if they want to continue having access to hunt on private land?”
Anderson said the number of hunters has been gradually declining for about 30 years, although Alberta figures are stronger than most other provinces. The number took an uptick in 2020, likely related to people seeking outdoor pursuits during the pandemic.
Lower numbers are a concern for biologists and conservation organizations, Anderson added.
“Most people don’t realize how important those hunters are both in terms of wildlife management and also the funds that come from hunters. It goes into fisheries and wildlife conservation.”
A previously identified barrier to new hunters is the need to find a location to hunt and to gain landowners’ trust. Through the survey, the ACA wants to learn what factors landowners consider when granting or denying access.
Warren Akitt, partner in a woodworking business in Pincher Creek, Alta., has been hunting for many years and has never had a problem getting permission to hunt on private land in the region.
“We try to obey the rules and respect the land,” he said.
It helps to know a lot of people in the area, which aids in gaining owners’ trust, he added.
He and his usual hunting companions make use of apps that list landowners who are open to hunting, along with contact information to ask their permission.
Akitt said he thinks a greater barrier to new hunters is the complication associated with buying and owning a firearm and its associated training and certification. That time and expense is then added to that of tags and draw fees.
“You don’t hunt to save money, that’s for sure,” said Akitt.
Some farmers and ranchers have had bad experiences with hunters who cut fences, leave gates open or worse, scare or injure livestock. Anderson knows it only takes one bad apple to spoil access for others.
“That’s a real challenge. The vast majority of hunters that I know, that I interact with, they want to do the right thing and are respectful of land, but when you get people who aren’t … it’s an annoyance and it’s a frustration for landowners, I’m sure,” he said.
As well, hunters from urban areas might not understand farmers’ and ranchers’ feelings about their land as a livelihood, a workplace and a home.
“I think it’s really important for people who might live in the city in particular and go hunting out in rural areas is to realize just how important that land is for certain landowners,” said Anderson.
“How would you feel if somebody was coming and asking if they could just kind of wander into your business or wander into your backyard or your place of work? How would you want them to act? How respectful would you want them to be? Some hunters absolutely get that, and others could probably use some education on that.”
The ACA, a not-for-profit charitable organization, receives funding through hunting and fishing licences: about $8 million from hunting and $5 million from fishing, Anderson said. It leverages that to qualify for various other grants and uses it for wildlife and habitat conservation. It also provides wildlife data to government policy makers.
The survey is open to private landowners in Alberta and will be available for input until the end of March.
Participants remain anonymous and their names will not be shared, said Anderson. However, those surveyed can indicate whether they are willing to be contacted for further queries or want to receive a report on the survey findings.
“We do want to hear from people who do allow hunting and people who don’t allow hunting,” said Anderson.
“I think a lot of people will be interested to see what we find.”
The survey can be found at www.ab-conservation.com/featured-projects/land/hunter-recruitment-and-the-landowner-link/.