Wildlife recreation seemingly is hot. Consider some of the findings of the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife–Associated Recreation State Overview Report:

  • Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers spent $145 billion last year on gear, trips and other purchases such as licenses, tags and land leasing or ownership.

  • Participation increased in 28 states since the last survey in 2006; 38 percent of all Americans 16 and older participated in wildlife recreation in 2011. Vermont has the highest percentage of residents who watch wildlife at an impressive 53 percent.

  • Recreational fishing increased by 11 percent, while hunting was up 9 percent. Spending on hunting equipment was up 29 percent from 2006.

The statistics appear to say that Americans are gung–ho for wildlife recreation. And they are—but not as many Americans as we would hope.

I’m impressed that 38 percent of Americans are connecting with nature. But that’s not a majority of grown–up Americans.

So, how do we make the percentage hit the 50–plus mark? Are we dreaming to think that 60 percent—even 70 percent—of Americans might become wildlife enthusiasts?

Conserving the Future talks about the challenge. It calls for building relationships with people who have not had traditional links to wild lands and wildlife. It recognizes that there are myriad opportunities to expand wildlife–dependent recreation on refuges.

How can we, for example, work with local communities to facilitate transportation so seniors and people with disabilities—even people who live in cities and depend on mass transit—can easily get to wildlife refuges and wildlife recreation? We are working to break down language barriers, but are we doing it quickly and broadly enough? Are we developing enough programs for young people—and are the programs being announced in the media that those under 25 use every day?

Ultimately promoting the relevance of the Refuge System to the lives of Americans is, at least partially, an issue of access to wildlife recreation.

The Refuge System is the front porch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the place where Americans meet our people in uniform and see firsthand the work we do. Getting more people to enjoy wildlife recreation on refuges is not only the work and goal of the Conserving the Future Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Recreation implementation team, but it is also the work of everyone who believes a connection to the natural world is the route to caring about its future.

The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife–Associated Recreation is not just a gauge of how many Americans spend time and money in the outdoors. It is an insight into how many people we still need to reach.