A new study offers some insights into why anglers volunteer with fishing and conservation organizations, which could benefit natural resource agencies looking to recruit more free help in an era of belt-tightening.
“Federal budgets are tighter, state budgets are tighter, so volunteers are critical for the management of our natural resources,” said Michael Schuett, study author and associate professor in Texas A&M University’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences.
The study is based the responses of 1,888 licensed anglers in Texas to a statewide survey, 451 of whom said they are a member of a fishing or conservation organization. Of those, 153 said they volunteer.
The survey included questions on what makes them volunteer, and the strongest motivations were related to helping and learning about the environment. This group of anglers was particularly interested in enriching activities that they enjoy doing, as well as seeing improvement in the natural areas where they’re working.
In addition to those altruistic motivations, people were also interested in sharing their knowledge with others and meeting people like themselves.
“People want to help the environment and do good things, but they also want to meet others who have the same types of interests they do,” Schuett said. “The social aspect is also an important thing.”
The surveyed anglers didn’t appear to be especially interested in volunteering to learn more about public policy or to gain influence over policy discussions. That wasn’t the case with other groups Schuett has studied. Volunteers with the U.S. Forest Service, for example, wanted to know more about timber sales and play a role in how decisions related to the sales were made.
Schuett said this kind of information has potential to help natural resources agencies and conservation organizations better sell the benefits of their volunteer opportunities. Recruiting new volunteers will become more important as today’s volunteers grow older: The average age of the survey group was 50, and it’s not clear that the next generation is going to step up in droves.
“My fear is the numbers are going to drop off markedly and then the agencies are going to have to figure out how do we engage these younger folks,” Schuett said. “I think that’s a concern for all of us who are working in the area of conservation. How do we get our younger generation to carry the torch?”