By Fran Silverman
One recent weekend, anxious to get in a hike before daylight saving time and the coming autumn sun dipped below the horizon at earlier hours, a friend and I headed to the Trout Brook Valley preserve in Easton, Connecticut for an afternoon hike. The 1009-acre preserve on ten square miles in Fairfield County features 20 trails for hikers, dog walkers and horseback riders.
Importantly, it is also home to frogs, salamanders, snapping turtles, the Eastern cottontail bears, deer, bobcats, coyotes – among other animals — and 159 species of birds.
Prepared with snacks and water we set off into the woods as the midday heat started to wane. About halfway through our hike, as we were looking for the mark that signaled which way forward on our trail, we saw a sign on a tree. It warned that the preserve was also home to hunters and it was hunting season.
We wondered whether we should turn back. Our basic hiking gear of boots, hats and long sleeves to protect us from ticks did not include bright orange shirts or vests. And as the afternoon turned into early evening and dusk was settling in the forest, we worried hunters wouldn’t be able to see us. After a few more minutes of hiking and sweating, we decided to turn back and head to our car.
I wondered if we had missed a sign at the beginning of the trail that signaled there could be hunters in these woods. But we hadn’t. I also wondered if other hikers would be able to spot that warning sign tucked deep into the trail.
I also wondered why this preserve, that was saved from developers by a land trust even allowed hunting. Turns out the western section of the preserve is owned by the state and Connecticut, which gives over almost all its 32 state forests and about one-third of its state parks and wildlife management areas to hunters. That’s a startling number considering the amount of residents seeking licenses for firearms hunting in the state has been steadily declining — from 15,353 in 1986 to just over 10,000 in 2016. That’s a 35 percent decrease. Resident firearms hunters, in fact, represent just .3 percent of the state’s population according to the state licensing figures.
The decreasing numbers of hunters in the state is consistent with national figures. Hunting participation decreased 16 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to a report by the National Survey of Fish, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation. Meanwhile, the numbers of people participating in wildlife watching activities is skyrocketing. More than 86 million people participated in activities such as observing, feeding and photographing wildlife, and their expenditures increased 28 percent from 2011 to $76 billion in 2016. Meanwhile, the amount hunters have been spending on the activity has been decreasing. In 2016, hunters nationwide expended $25.6 billion.
In Connecticut, about one-third of residents participate in wildlife watching activities — that’s 1.2 million people. Yet, the state gives over much of its designated recreational space to a total of about 50,000 hunters (about 1 percent of the state’s population) armed with rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders and cross bows who are intent on killing some of the very wildlife more than a million nature observers are eager to see.
What this state and others really need to do is declare more forests and park lands a dead end for hunters.
This blog was updated on 4/26/ 2018 with additional information from the state DEEP.
Communications Director Fran Silverman joined Friends of Animals in October 2017. Fran oversees FoA’s public affairs and publications. Her previous experience includes editor of a national nonprofit consumer advocacy site, staff writer and editor positions at several daily newspapers, and she was a contributing writer for The New York Times.