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David Fulton

U professor David Fulton's research focuses on the attitudes and interests of outdoors people.

Understanding the outdoors

By Martin Moen

From eNews, March 6, 2008

Are changing recreational preferences threatening North America's wildlife?

Fewer people are hunting and fishing, and the declining participation rates are occurring primarily in people under 40. This drop in participation could be a real threat to the well-being of America's wildlife because money from hunting and fishing licenses provides the majority of funding for habitat conservation efforts in North America. And, with the push for growing biofuels, state and federal conservation policies that paid farmers to remove land from production are less appealing. "Clearly, the revenue model that created wildlife conservation and habitat protection successes during the 20th century is in serious jeopardy at the start of the 21st," says David Fulton, associate professor in the U's Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology and assistant unit leader in the U.S. Geological Survey's Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Fulton's research into the attitudes and interests of outdoors people is helping natural resource managers understand these changes and make the best decisions in this new situation.

Keeping people happy

"With the apparent drop in hunters and anglers, recruitment and retention are the buzzwords for those concerned with management of fish and wildlife," Fulton says. In the nine years he's been at the University, Fulton has built an impressive collection of data about hunters and anglers. "While we might not be able to reverse the decline in participation, if people have a good outdoors experience, they'll continue to buy licenses and join hunting and fishing organizations. The challenge is identifying and then managing for the conditions that produce a 'good' experience," Fulton says. "If we can keep people connected to wildlife and the land, we know that devoted outdoors people are going to promote conservation of land and game and nongame species." What is a "good" experience for hunting and fishing? For some, the opportunity to shoot a trophy buck or successfully call in a skittish tom turkey is rewarding. Others value the chance to get outdoors--bringing home the catch is secondary. Still others get outdoors for the solitude and feel their experience is diminished when their favorite fishing hole is crowded with other anglers. The survey data Fulton collects helps resource managers for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others create the range of experiences that keep people coming back. While controlling license numbers or bag limits is the ingrained response for managing recreational use of fish and wildlife, Fulton's research suggests that managers need to develop a more holistic approach focused on the outcomes people get from hunting and fishing if we want to ensure a beneficial experience for hunters and anglers.