The decrease in the number of hunters isn't necessarily good news for ducks, researchers write in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, because the loss of revenue from "duck stamps" -- the federal license needed to hunt -- could result in millions of lost dollars for vital conservation work.
"The last 15 years have brought hunting opportunities not seen since the turn of the last century," Mark Vrtiska of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said. "The waterfowl population has passed 40 million six times since 1995, something only seen nine times since records began. These should be the glory days for duck hunting."
But as duck numbers go up, "duck stamp" sales are plummeting, officials said.
More than 2.1 million stamps were sold annually in the 1970s but from 2004-08 that declined to 1.3 million, with an ongoing annual decline of 36 percent.
"Duck hunting has been a tradition for rural America for centuries, yet a cultural shift and changing attitudes has seen a slow decline in hunter numbers," Vrtiska said. "The resulting fall in funding is impacting all those involved in habitat conservation which is only made more important by the dramatic rise in duck numbers."
"Federal funding for conservation is dependent on the revenue raised by selling the duck stamps, a unique dynamic for wildlife managers in the United States," he said. "Up to 98 percent of money raised by the duck stamps is used to purchase or lease habitat within the National Wildlife Refuge system."
As hunter numbers decline annually due to various social, cultural and economic factors, researchers estimate as much as $14.3 million could be lost each year.