There’s a sad truth out there. Hunting and fishing license sales nationally and here in Pennsylvania – despite some small, recent blips upward – have been trending downward for decades.

That’s already produced serious consequences, with more looming. Politically, sportsmen are losing clout with lawmakers. Financially, the industries that support the outdoors are at risk from a shrinking customer base. And in terms of conservation, fewer license buyers means less money to spend on game species, at a time when our fish and wildlife agencies are increasingly being asked to spend some of those shrinking dollars on everything from bats to wood rats.

The answer to solving those dilemmas seems simple: we need to create more hunters and fishermen. But where to get them?

State agencies have been looking to reverse those declining sales trends by recruiting more children in recent years. Efforts to bring more women into the ranks have taken on a new urgency over the last decade, too. Those have worked to a degree, though not so well to turn the tide.

But there’s another potential market out there.

Hunting fishing, wildlife watching, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking – all outdoor sports – are enjoyed almost exclusively by Caucasians. National statistics show that, even as America is becoming more culturally diverse, minorities are not getting involved in the outdoors.

I recently did some research into the subject and came up with three stories. You can read them at the Tribune-Review’s web site, www.triblive.com. Click on “sports,” then “outdoors” and look for them under the headlines “Minorities missing outdoors,” “State’s ‘green’ agencies mostly white” and “Minorities scarce among outdoors media.”

Longer versions of each story will be appearing in the Pennsylvania Outdoor News over the next four issues, as well.

You’ll see that blacks and Hispanics in particular are the fast-growing parts of the American scene, yet they’re few and far between in the outdoor ranks.

Recruiting them into the outdoors will not be easy. It’s not even an easy subject to talk about.

Some sources, black and white, didn’t want to be interviewed for fear of being labeled racist, being stereotyped as a minority wanting something extra or something else.

Within a day of publishing those stories, too, I heard from a few people who thought the stories were “political statements” or advocating special privileges for minorities, or that I as the author – a gun toting, animal eating, fish catching conservative – was somehow a part of the Obama media trying to tear down the country.

Uh, wrong on all counts, fellas.

Getting minorities in the outdoors is still, to be honest, not what some people want either. We live in a world where people from other cultures are trying to set off car bombs in our biggest cities and where we have to take our shoes off to board a plane.

Suspicions of people with unusual names or different skin colors are common and even understandable to a degree.

I’d argue that, despite all of that, we need to look at the larger picture.

If we want to keep hunting and fishing relevant in country that’s becoming increasingly urban, it’s just plain stupid to overlook a legitimate segment of the American population. That doesn’t mean we accept terrorists as trout fishermen just to boost the ranks. But if legitimate U.S. citizens – be they white, black, green yellow or striped — living and working in this country aren’t hunting or fishing, we’d be smart to share what we know and love about the outdoors rather than building walls up to keep people who don’t look like us out.

But decide for yourselves. Read the stories and you’ll see where the racial gulf between the nation as a whole and sportsmen in particular exists. Then ask yourselves: do we need hunting and fishing to become more diverse, or can we sustain our traditions with fewer and fewer people who will be required to pay more and more for things like licenses?

It’s hard for me to believe the latter course could ever work.

 –BF