FILE - Deer hunting

Lee Anderson, center, helps Domenic Salvucci, left, get the buck Salvucci shot into the butcher shop for processing in this 2005 file poto.

A decline in hunter participation could mean less conservation funding in Illinois.

The decline is part of a nationwide trend and has been occurring for nearly half a century. Jared Duquette, who manages the Wildlife and Hunter Heritage Program for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said that hunting plays an important role in the economy and the environment.

“Hunting gets people outside and connects them with nature, which we know through something like nature-deficit disorder, that is a big deal,” Duquette said. “Getting people back outside, it allows them to get natural food, which helps the environment.”

Duquette said that hunting provides rural communities a huge boost.

“Hunting supports local communities throughout Illinois and really throughout the world by getting people particularly into rural areas that rely on hunters to stay in their hotels, to pay for the gas, go to the diners, and that kind of thing,” he said.

A survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016 says that around 5 percent of Americans older than 16 hunt, which is about half of the number around 50 years ago with no signs of it trending upward.

Duquette said he believes that hunting license revenue took a dive sometime after the passage of the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973, more commonly known as the Farm Bill.

“You had this inflection point of farms getting bigger, but also the number of farms in Illinois decline,” he said.

The Farm Bill gave way to the production for corn and soybean production in addition to the advent of various forms of industrial technology that enabled precision farming.

“At the same time, the issue was a lot of people don’t realize that deer and turkey – which are very abundant today – were almost extricated from Illinois,” Duquette said.

Last year, the state received $13.1 million from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.