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Number of hunters in Iowa continues to decline

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) -- The number of Iowa hunters is dropping due, in part, to the loss of wildlife habitat and access to hunting grounds, officials said.

Mirroring a nationwide trend, the number of Iowa hunters declined more than 20 percent between 1991 and 2001, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

During that same period, the number of small-game hunting licenses issued to Iowans declined 12 percent, from 217,200 to 194,051, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

If the trend continues, the ideal of American hunting, in which the game belongs to and is accessible to everyone, may be overtaken by the European model, which is limited to the aristocracy, said Richard Bishop, chief of the DNR's Wildlife Bureau.

Bishop thinks loss of wildlife habitat and loss of access to the hunting grounds have caused Iowans to give up hunting. Just as pheasants are running out of places to live, Iowans are running out of places to hunt, he said.

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"Farmers have cleaned up the countryside to make way for wall-to-wall corn and soybeans," Bishop said.

In addition, the rural to urban population shift has severed many Iowans' ties to the land, Bishop said.

From 1940 to 2000, the number of Iowans living on farms decreased from 917,000 to 171,000, while Iowans living in cities increased from 1.1 million to 1.8 million, according to the U.S. Census.

Many Iowans who grew up hunting on the family farm and the property of neighbors have lost their access to hunting areas after moving to the cities, Bishop said. Lack of access also makes it more difficult for parents to introduce their children to hunting, he said.

Most youngsters would not take up hunting without a mentor -- typically a dad, uncle or friend -- to show them the way, said Dale Braun, hunter education chairman for the Linn County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, which teaches hunter safety, ethics and skills to about 250 people each year.

Today's teenagers tend to be too busy for hunting, Braun said.

The trend is applauded by some.

"Whatever is causing (the decline in hunters), I'm all for it," said animal-rights activist Audrey Rahn of Cedar Rapids. Rahn said she thinks Iowans' attitude toward killing animals has changed in the past 15 years.

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"A lot of people have come to understand that animals are not to be used any way that people want," she said.

The DNR manages more than 300,000 acres of public hunting land. Bishop advocates doubling that in the next 20 years.

"If we don't provide more places for Iowans to hunt, the number of them hunting will continue to go downhill," he said.

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