The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in many changes that require us all to adjust. Phrases like “self-quarantine” and “social distancing,” which were rarely used or completely unheard of several months ago, are now a part of our daily vocabulary. As we adjust to this “new normal,” America’s sportsmen and women, a group that I am proud to represent as a member of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, have found a way to pursue their outdoor passions while much of the world seemingly stood still. By participating in outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting, sportsmen and women are setting an example for those looking for safe and responsible recreational opportunities.
While millions of Americans have been forced to limit their travels due to mandatory stay-at-home orders, activities like hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and many other outdoor activities have provided an outlet for Americans to safely recreate as they can be enjoyed while practicing social distancing and adhering to other COVID-19 safety guidelines. As restrictions start to ease, Americans are flocking to the woods, waters, fields, and trails to take advantage of our outdoor resources, with many discovering nature’s wonders for the first time.
This newfound interest in outdoor recreation represents an invaluable opportunity to introduce American’s to activities like hunting and fishing and the vital role sportsmen and women play in conservation. In addition to the numerous documented mental and physical health benefits gained through these activities, maintaining access to hunting and fishing opportunities gives Americans a chance to procure their own locally-sourced meat. Due to many of the impacts of COVID-19, this ability to be self-reliant is at a premium. With all of this in mind, these unprecedented times represent a chance for a new generation of sportsmen and women to discover the passion that many of us already share. Be it through scouting for upcoming fall hunting seasons, or landing that first largemouth bass, now is the time to lead by example and plant the seeds for the next generation of sportsmen and women.
Increased participation in hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting has enormous conservation benefits as well through the American System of Conservation Funding. This “user pays-public benefits” approach relies on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and self-imposed excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, and motorboat fuel to fund many state fish and wildlife management agencies. In addition, these activities support local economies which, during these unprecedented times, has become incredibly important. In fact, recent surveys report that Alabama’s 948,000 hunters and anglers spent $1.9 billion while pursuing their outdoor passions.
Unfortunately, the ability of America’s sportsmen and women to participate in their outdoor endeavors were not uniformly protected as statewide orders were announced. In fact, several states saw actions that hindered or even eliminated the ability to participate in our treasured outdoor traditions. While largely enacted in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these actions severely limited our outdoor opportunities without any measurable increase in public safety. To ensure that such restrictive actions are not used again, it is up to sportsmen and women to practice responsible recreation, showing by example that our outdoor pursuits can be performed safely. This can be accomplished by following a few simple guidelines.
To learn more about how others are using these challenging times as an opportunity to spend more time outdoors, search for #ResponsibleRecreation on social media. Likewise, for more information on recreating responsibly, or to take the Responsible Recreation pledge and help lead by example, visit www.responsible-recreation.org.
State Rep. Danny Crawford of Athens represents Distict 5, which includes portions of Limestone County, in the Alabama House and serves as the chair of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.