Fremont County residents involved in Hometown Pride civic improvement projects met to consider the future of the county’s outdoor recreation and amenities on June 26, at the United Faith Church in Sidney.
To inform the discussion, wildlife biologists Matt Dollison and Jake Holt presented information, photographs, and data about outdoor recreation in the county, as well as its limitations.
Major tasks facing the region will be to better publicize the wealth of recreational opportunities, and to continue to make improvements in the face of shrinking wildlife habitats.
Dollison, of the Iowa DNR Nishnabotna Unit, said Fremont County is a “sportman’s paradise” because of the great diversity of game for fishing and hunting: deer, catfish, pheasant, and “the greatest number of Northern Bobwhite quail anywhere.”
DNR public land amounts to 9,320 acres.
Total public land including parks, wildlife management areas, and a golf course comprises 17,290 acres.
And Iowa has more hunting lands than Nebraska “by far.”
Fremont County also has the best birdwatching in Iowa, the best duck marsh in the state and sand hill cranes nesting at Riverton.
Statewide, a 2011 survey listed the number of birders as more than 46 million, with birders spending $711 million in Iowa.
Holt, a Farmbill biologist with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, stressed the point that outdoor recreation is big business that promotes a healthy economy.
Nationally, $887 billion is spent annually, and the industry employs 7.6 million people.
But there are obstacles to surmount if Fremont County wants to get the most out of its resources.
Habitat loss: USDA data shows that CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land decreased by almost two million acres—about three thousand  square miles—between 1990 and 2015 due to national caps imposed by the federal government.
Outdoor education: roughly nine out of ten counties in Iowa have a naturalist on staff and a nature center. Fremont County does not.
Decreased funding for DNR: what was once a $200,000 budget now stands at just $30,000.
Perhaps the most important practical questions that can be addressed locally are,
What draws folks here? What limits their numbers? How can we work to overcome those limitations?
Getting the word out seems to be a key task facing the region.
A recent survey of resident compared to  non-resident hunters revealed that  both groups agree there is good hunting, but no access to private land.
But when non-residents were asked how they found out about hunting in southwestern Iowa, they most often said they “just happened upon it.”