The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is handling an increased demand for hunter education from Latinos.
In recent years, the department has begun offering the course in Spanish. The move not only reflects the changing demographics of the state, but could also help Texas combat one of its most unwelcome pests.
Dalia Zuñiga was a student at a recent course in Austin. Her husband took the two-day Hunter Education course from Texas Parks and Wildlife with her. So did their 10-year-old daughter.
"I really like nature and since he does, too, we’re taking advantage of this chance to be together. We can all share in it, the whole family," she said.
Hispanics are poised to surpass non-Hispanic whites in Texas as the majority racial group by about 2020.
And the changing demographics comes across in the demand for this course.
This class last month in Austin had almost 20 people. When course instructor Maria Araujo launched these classes in 2008, only 6 or 7 students attended. Sometimes she has to turn someone away.
"I teach the class in Austin at least once every year," Araujo said. "I’m getting requests to teach classes in Spanish in other parts of the state. I’ve already taught two classes in Port Arthur, for example. I also had to go and train some of our state park staff to teach the class in Spanish in the Big Bend region."
Araujo says she’s spending more time traveling to distant parts of the state teaching in Spanish. She says parents like the Zuñigas motivate her to put in all this effort. She remembers one Spanish-speaking student back in 2006, who had gotten fined for hunting without certification.
He didn’t know he needed to take this class.
"If we had not been able to serve this parent, we would lose the next generation of children interested in participating in an activity," she said. "And I can’t think of anything more important than parents being able to expose their children to recreational activities like hunting."
So she volunteered to translate a class in English for him until she began teaching in Spanish in 2008.
"That’s what motivated me because at the end of this class this little kid he was very excited that his father had finally gotten the certificate and that they would be able to go hunting," she said.
Anyone born after September 1971 is required to get certified in Texas. Hunters also need to buy a license. Fines for not following procedure can range from $25 to $500. Usually a judge will give hunters a chance to take the class within a certain time frame, and then the citation gets reduced or dismissed.
Araujo says in her class she focuses on getting things right so her students avoid these fines, and get others to hunt, too.
"All the funding that comes from the sale of licenses or these public hunting permit it has to be put back into these programs," she said. "It doesn’t go into some general programs. Plus, another thing about hunting is that it is a wild management tool."
Texas needs help with one animal in particular: feral hogs. They destroy vegetation underground, like roots or bulbs. In Texas, they cause about half a billion dollars in damages each year. They also bring E. coli into ponds, creeks and riverbanks through their waste.
"With more folks out on the ground conducting hunting and trapping and legal methods for reducing feral hogs would increase the harvest rate which would move us closer toward curbing population growth," Mark Tyson said. He's an associate with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service.
Texas has about 2.5 million feral hogs. In 2010, roughly 750,000 of them were harvested – about 29 percent of the population. Even still, their numbers have continued to rise.
"To hold the population steady, for the population not to continue growth, a harvest rate of 66 percent would actually need to be accomplished," Tyson said.
Roughly 10 classes in Spanish are offered a year. Outside this certification class in Austin, Dalia Zuñiga is judging her target sheet.
"Not right in the center, but close enough. All I need is practice," she said. She’ll get to practice when she and her family go deer hunting in San Angelo next month, she added.