DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Outdoor enthusiasts and business groups on Wednesday announced the formation of a new organization to promote hunting in Iowa, hoping to reverse years of declining interest in the activity.
The newly formed Hunting Works for Iowa will stress the economic boost that hunting gives to the state. The organization estimates that hunters spend more than $288 million in the state annually and create 6,200 jobs, said Jim Henter, president of the Iowa Retail Federation, which is taking part in the effort.
"Countless retail stores across Iowa benefit from hunter dollars every year," Henter said.
The new organization, which includes about 45 groups, plans to boost hunting by keeping a close watch on public policy decisions and pushing for hunting-friendly regulations while making the case that the sport benefits the state economy.
The number of hunting licenses issued in Iowa has declined for 10 straight years, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said his agency issued 194,019 resident hunting licenses in 2001 and that had dropped to 160,466 by 2011.
Officials blamed several factors for that drop, including recent harsh winters that have hurt wildlife populations, less animal habitat and an increasingly urban population that is less likely to hunt.
DNR Director Roger Lande said five-straight harsh winters have been especially difficult on pheasants, which also have been hurt by the cultivation of more land as farmers sought to cash in on high corn and soybean prices.
"Anytime Iowa has more than 30 inches of snow it's going to have a hugely adverse effect on the pheasant population," Lande said.
This year's mild winter will help, but won't solve the problem, he said. "It's going to take more than one year," Lande said.
Baskins said he thinks the biggest factor is the state's shift to a more urban population, and away from farms and small towns.
"If you go back to 20 years ago, everybody had a connection with somebody on a farm so you had a place to hunt. That's not the case anymore," Baskins said. "You don't see 12- and 13-year-olds going out and learning to hunt."
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade association, found that the trend being seen in Iowa is occurring throughout the nation.
The foundation conducted a study tracking hunting license sales back to 1980. It found that license sales peaked in 1982, when about 17 million licenses were issued, but had dropped to 14.5 million by 2005 and about 12.5 million by 2006.
Libby Patton, tourism director at the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, said she was joining the effort because of the economic importance of hunting to her community in northern Iowa.
"Hunters bring a lot of money to our town and many others and that results directly in more jobs and more tax revenue at the local level," she said.