Over the weekend The Oregonian ran a good short series on the diminishing numbers of hunters and anglers in the state. While the state’s population has doubled since 1950, the number of hunters and fishermen has declined. (Read the articles here, here, here, and here.) This is not just a Beaver State phenomenon — it’s true nationwide, and it may have some troubling implications for wildlife protection. The Oregonian seems mostly concerned that without hunting and fishing, fewer people will want to protect wildlife and natural areas. I think that’s wrong. Northwesterners are still getting out into nature in vast, teeming, trail-clogging hordes. In fact, wildlife watchers generate substantially more economic activity than hunters and anglers combined. The more important question — and the one that The Oregonian gives comparatively short shrift to — is a basic policy question. As the paper has it:… who will pay the costs of preserving habitat and managing fish and wildlife? Hunters and fishermen now foot most of the bill, not just through the steep license, tag and access fees they pay, but also through countless hours of volunteer labor, pulling out abandoned fences, cutting down water-sucking juniper trees, planting streamside willows and tending boxes of fish eggs.In Oregon, as in many other states, hunting and fishing licenses, together with taxes on items like ammunition and fishing rods, pay for a huge variety of conservation benefits — everything from fieldwork by professional biologists to refuges like Sauvie’s Island on the Columbia River. Without those (declining) sources of revenue, the future of conservation may look even more bleak than it already does. So what to do?