By Doug Howlett
Mike Nyhoff, with work smartphone in one hand and personal flip phone in the other, is blazing trails of sorts in the way technology is used to manage outdoor recreation, while keeping a traditional eye on the way things have been done in the past. At 58 and one of the more senior regional supervisors at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), he would seem an unlikely candidate to help lead his agency’s foray into high-tech ways to better manage their public lands. But when a former employee, a key figure in bringing iSportsman to the agency, left to take a position elsewhere, Nyhoff’s senior standing managing public lands made him a natural choice to lead the effort. Despite an interest in computers, Nyhoff jokes, because of his age, if he could figure out the new system, the agency figured anybody could.
Now, he and the KDWPT are serving as modern technology pioneers as Kansas was the first state agency to adopt the iSportsman service to manage their public lands. And in the nearly two years it has been used to manage 23 public hunting areas in the state, are helping redefine best practices and new ways it can be used to manage public recreation.
At the time KDWPT began officially using iSportsman in September 2014, many of their public areas required hunters to go to an on-site station, complete the top portion of a card and drop it in a box to check-in and then upon leaving, complete a harvest and checkout bottom portion of the same card and drop that into the box at the station.
“Managers were sometimes driving 100 miles simply to pick up the cards, sorting them out and either entering the data themselves or sending it to headquarters to be entered,” says Nyhoff. “We are talking thousands of cards…The manpower expenses were astronomical.”
With iSportsman, everything is automated. With a PC, tablet or smartphone, hunters can simply check-in the night before or morning of hunting, go enjoy their time outdoors and then checkout and record their harvest the same way at the end of the day. The KDWPT iSportsman also allows offers telephony service so those hunters using flip phones like Nyhoff’s personal one or a landline, can check-in or out and record harvest by simply punching a few keys on their phone.
Nyhoff points out that with the old system, it was often 6 months to a year before harvest and usage data was available for use by the agency. With iSportsman, it can be accessed virtually in seconds. In fact, during this interview with Nyhoff, he was able to pull usage statistics that spanned the first use of iSportsman all the way up the very moment when we were talking and report them. Another key benefit of the new service, is reporting rates have also increased, partly because of the convenience and effectiveness of iSportsman, but also because the agency has taken a more pro-active approach in encouraging compliance now that they can better track it.
“With the cards, they get damaged and you can’t read some of the writing, the bottoms would get turned in but not the tops, the tops would get turned in and not the bottoms, blood is on some of the cards and you’re not sure if it is animal blood or human blood, sometimes people would write derogatory comments…even if they turned them in, you didn’t always get complete information like you needed,” says Nyhoff. “With the cards, we did not do a very good job of enforcement, simply because it was hard to stay on top of. With iSportsman in place, we have made a much more concerted effort in educating sportsman of the importance to comply and the ease with which they can do that.”
Compliance with the card system ranged as high as 90 to 95 percent in some locations to as low as 50 percent in other. Getting both a completed top and bottom to a card hovered around 60 percent.
“With iSportsman, compliance rates are now much better,” says Nyhoff. “Our completion rate is up in the 98 percent level. It’s the complete information of a trip that we are getting now.”
As with any new service, there were initially some challenges to overcome. To start, Nyhoff and his team had to learn a new system, a process made much easier thanks to the iSportsman team’s support.
“I have to give a lot of credit to (them),” says Nyhoff. “They have been extremely helpful getting us up to speed and getting us going. They have been quick to respond to questions or assist with problems anytime we have them.” The agency also had to launch a public awareness campaign to educate sportsman using the public areas and convince them information electronically gathered was not going to be used to invade their privacy or to broadcast the hottest hunting spots during the season.
Nyhoff says once they understood and tried iSportsman, many hunters were quickly won over as it saved them time from having to travel to a centrally located kiosk and sometimes stand in line to check-in.
“Now they do it before they leave or from their vehicle right before they head out,” Nyhoff says. “It makes everything much easier for the end user.”
With more than 100 public hunting areas of various sizes across the state, the first 23 to use iSportsman have been viewed as a sort of test trial for the service. Not only does KDWPT anticipate rolling the service out to more hunting areas in the coming years, but they are also looking at expanding it to monitor other activities such as mushroom hunting, shed hunting, dog trials and even coon dog events.
“We are branching it into other areas as we get more comfortable with the service,” Nyhoff says. “Right now, we are really just scratching the surface of what the iSportsman system can do.”