FRANKFORT – For many of us, the seasons in Kentucky don’t stop with summer, winter, spring and fall. We also look forward to such other seasons as archery, muzzle-loader and modern gun. Kentucky looks great no matter how you see it, but there is something a little extra special about the view from a deer stand, a duck blind or out on a boat fishing.
In a given year across the commonwealth, more than 550,000 people fish, 347,000 hunt and another two million either boat on our rivers and lakes or observe our wildlife. Not surprisingly, these outdoor activities are a major driver of our economy, with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources estimating the annual impact at nearly $6 billion.
Their direct support through applicable taxes, tags and license fees is also the foundation for conservation and educational efforts that are making sure what we enjoy today will still be thriving for generations to come. Last year, that totaled almost $49 million.
In some ways, this money is helping improve what Mother Nature has done on her own.
Consider that, a century ago, wildlife officials estimate there were less than 1,000 white-tailed deer roaming the countryside. Now, there are more than 820,000. As a result, the 2015 season was another one for the record books, with 155,000 harvested.
There’s every reason to believe this year’s season will be even better, since bow hunters claimed 1,700 deer over the three-day Labor Day weekend, which is several hundred more than last year and almost twice as much as the total from a decade ago.
Elk, which were re-introduced into our corner of Kentucky in the late 1990s, have seen phenomenal growth as well. Now, they make up the largest herd found east of the Rocky Mountains.
The good news locally is that dove hunters have gained another field here in Floyd County. That site, as well as others, can be found on the Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources’ webpage at fw.ky.gov.
There are other successes also worth highlighting. Kentucky State University is at the forefront internationally in the field of aquaculture, for example, and Murray State University is a national leader in wildlife management and conservation. Eastern Kentucky University, meanwhile, has a bass fishing team recognized as one of the best in the country.
This coming Saturday, Sept. 24th, our country will honor those who help make the outdoors great when we celebrate the 44th annual National Hunting and Fishing Day. This time has been designated at the state level as well, and is something I am proud to support as a member of the Kentucky Sportsmen’s Caucus.
To make sure hunting and fishing rights are always secure, I was proud to sponsor a constitutional amendment in 2011 that made sure no one but Kentuckians themselves could cut back activities we have lawfully enjoyed for generations. Voters approved that amendment the next year, adding us to about 20 other states with similar protections in their constitutions. Vermont holds the distinction of having it on the books the longest – it was included in 1777 – but the rest have been added over the past 20 years.
In addition to supporting Kentucky’s wildlife through their financial contributions, many deer hunters also play a major role when it comes to fighting hunger by donating excess deer meat.
Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry, a leader in that field, began its charitable work more than a quarter-century ago and now harvests up to 70,000 pounds of meat a year, providing 560,000 meals. They say just one donated deer can feed up to 400 people.
All of these gains and others too numerous to mention are why we are among the leading states in conservation and wildlife management. It didn’t happen by accident, either; it came about because of the contributions of those who love to hunt, fish, boat or just watch wildlife at our state parks.
So if you are among that group, then you should be proud of the role you’re playing in preserving our irreplaceable resources. That’s something worth celebrating not just this coming Saturday, but every day.
With that in mind, I encourage you to take time this weekend, or any weekend where it’s appropriate, to hunt, fish, or just hike through the woods. Take your children as well if possible, because those memories last a lifetime – and they help make sure the Kentucky we love will stay that way for decades to come.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.