Normally I post deep thoughts about matters of conservation policy. Today I will rant.
Just over a week ago I met two friends, packed up the car in Washington, D.C., and headed for Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River, one of the best trout rivers in the East. The fabled Grannom caddis hatch was on, and it had been six months since I’d stood in a river chasing trout.
As has been my tradition for most of the last 15 years, we left town early to hit Spruce Creek Outfitters, an excellent fly shop where we could buy licenses, stock up on the latest bugs and hear fish tales before hitting the river for the afternoon. Unfortunately, the fly shop no longer sells licenses. Instead they told us to use our smart phones to buy the licenses online.
We set off for a high spot on the road where we could get cell service. After about 30 minutes, my friends succeeded in their efforts. I was unable to complete the transaction but decided to put my friends on the river and then complete my purchase at some other high point along the river.
After sending off my friends, I again found a spot with service and tried to purchase my license, each time reaching the final stage (after entering my credit card information) before receiving the message that the server was busy and to try again later. About 15 minutes into this process I called the toll-free help line and was put on hold to wait for the next available agent. Surely, I thought, between my continued efforts with the Pennsylvania website and help from a live person, I would succeed.
Nearly an hour later I had yet to speak to an agent and was still without a license.
Approaching a murderous rage, I gave up, drove back to the river, put on my waders and walked out to live vicariously through my friends, watching them catch fat brown trout on dry flies. After dinner that night I was finally able to complete my transaction and fish the next day.
Across America, conservation groups work to get kids outdoors and pass along the traditions of hunting and fishing. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation spends millions of dollars encouraging people to rejoin fishing or try it for the first time – and with remarkable success. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, participation was up 11 percent in the last five years, reversing a 20 year decline.
To ensure that we have quality places to hunt and fish, conservation groups also are restoring our lands and waters. Look no further than the Little Juniata, which 40 years ago was an open sewer devoid of most fish life.
Groups like the TRCP work to implement new programs, like the Open Fields program of the Farm Bill, to open private lands and waters to hunting and fishing. Since Open Fields launched in 2010, approximately 3 million acres have been opened to the public.
All this work on engagement, habitat and access falls by the wayside if sportsmen must struggle to obtain the proper licenses and tags. The responsibility for licensing falls to the states. According to a recent RBFF study, only five of the 50 states offer mobile friendly websites and only two of the 50 states offer mobile friendly license sales. Really?
Folks, our sports depend upon participation. Fish and game agency budgets depend upon license sales. Conservation groups depend upon engaged members who will work like dogs for the resource but who deserve to be able to enjoy that resource with as little hassle as possible.
I’d like to think of my experience with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as an exception, but the RBFF numbers indicate otherwise. We can do better, and all sportsmen and -women should make sure that their states join the 21st century and make it as easy as possible for people to enjoy their resources.