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The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter

Winter 2013 Issue
Cooking the Numbers The USFWS Survey does NOT show an increase in hunting from 2006 to 2011

Cooking the Numbers
The USFWS Survey does not show an increase in hunting from 2006 to 2011
By Peter Muller

CASH Courier huntingAround the middle of 2012, many of us encountered claims in the popular media that the number of hunters in the US had been increasing over the last five years.

These claims were based on the 2011 edition of the “National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.” These surveys are published every five years by a consortium of federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The final 2011 version, the “2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation” wasn’t released until late in December 2012.
There were some “preliminary versions” leaked in the middle of 2012 on which these media reports were based, but the final report seemed to be taking an extra long time in cooking up the numbers.

We’ve been following the trends published in those reports since the 1980s, and reported on the steady decline of the number of hunters both in absolute numbers, as well as a percentage of the US population. We were surprised by the reported increase in the preliminary version – but waited patiently for the final version to appear before examining the claim of an increase in 2011 over the numbers from the 2006 survey.

After some sleuthing, we found two significant modifications in the methodology of the 2011 survey compared to the methodology used in previous surveys that account for disingenuously reporting an increase in the number of hunters.

Nobody, not the US government, not the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, not Ted Nugent, and not even I know the exact number of people who hunted in the US in 2006, nor do we know the exact number of people who hunted in the US in 2011. If we follow a given survey methodology to come up with a reasonably close estimate of that number – then it is incumbent upon us to follow the same methodology in subsequent periods if the increases and decreases measured by the surveys are expected to reflect the actual increase and decrease of hunters. If we use one survey method in 2006, and another significantly different method in 2011 to count the number of hunters in the US, we cannot claim that we found an increase or a decrease in the number of hunters.

We found a major change in the 2011 methodology on Page 108 of the publication: [Emphasis added]

CASH Courier hunting“A modification of the 2011 sampling scheme was to oversample counties that had relatively high proportions of hunting license purchases.”

If, in the 2011 survey, they took more samples from counties that had higher hunting license sales –we would, obviously, expect a disproportionately higher report of hunting activity than if we sampled counties not so selected. We found no indication in the discussion of methodology that the data was re-weighted to adjust for this blatant loading of the data source.

In addition to that major change, loading the data in favor of finding a greater number of hunters in 2011, we found another rather obvious change in the 2011 methodology that would also tend to increase the number of hunting occasions reported. The survey consists of interviewing selected respondents by phone or in person regarding their hunting experience within a set “recall” period.

CASH Courier hunting

That change in the methodology is found on page 110 of the “2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation”.

The recall period was extended by at least 33% for 2011 from the recall periods for the data collected for the previous twenty years.

Assume today is March 1st 2013 and I ask in my survey:

Did you make any trips to Florida between July 1st 2012 and November 1st 2012

Or, alternatively:

Did you make any trips to Florida between March 1st 2012 and November 1st 2012

Clearly, the Yes-answers to question 2) will be larger than the Yes-answers to question 1) since the trips recalled in question 1) will also be recalled in question 2) in addition to some other trips. By extending the recall period about whether and how often they hunted – the survey is increasing the number of hunting occasions reported. These results of the 2011 survey are not comparable to the data from the previous 20 years of surveys.

A further inaccuracy in the report, not resulting in reporting larger number of hunters, but misleading nevertheless, is the inclusion of “people who hunted without a license, even though a license was required.”

In common English usage these people are referred to as “poachers” not “hunters.”
I would suggest that they reissue their survey, entitled:

“The 2011 National Tale about Fishing, Hunting, Poaching, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation”

The agencies involved seem to be striving to publish numbers that they would like to see rather than numbers as they are.
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C.A.S.H. asked the science-based HRC to review our analysis. They wrote the following:
I, Che Green, executive director and lead researcher of the Humane Research Council (http://www.humaneresearch.org) have reviewed the analysis contained in this article and agree that this analysis is accurate without clarifying and contrary information provided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

CASH Courier hunting

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Peter Muller is the Vice President of C.A.S.H.

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