Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007
Fishing, hunting add a lot to the economy
Success in any business requires an understanding of the demographics of the clientele. Who buys the product or service and how much they spend are essential bits of information. Since 1955, wildlife professionals at the state and national levels have depended upon a wildlife-based recreation survey that has been conducted every five years.
The recently published 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reports that 87.5 million Americans spent more than $122 billion in 2006 on wildlife-related recreation. The U.S. Census Bureau collected the data through an extensive series of personal and phone interviews. The sample included 21,938 anglers and hunters and 11,279 watchers. Before 1980, the survey included information only on anglers and hunters; in 1980 information on watchers was added.
Here's where we stand over the last 10 years:
In 2006, 113.6 million total participants consisted of 30.0 million anglers who spent $42.2 billion, 12.5 million hunters who spent $22.9 billion (another $11.6 billion was spent on unspecified hunting/fishing activities), and 71.1 million watchers who spent $45.7 billion.
In 2001, 113 million total participants consisted of 34 million anglers who spent $35.6 billion, 13 million hunters who spent $20.6 billion, and 66 million watchers who spent $40 billion.
In 1996, 112.1 million total participants consisted of 35.2 million anglers who spent $37.8 billion; 14.0 million hunters who spent $20.6 billion; and 62.9 watchers who spent $29.2 billion.
Though the total number of wildlife enthusiasts (anglers, hunters, and watchers) is stable, there's a notable shift from anglers and hunters to watchers. Over the last 10 years, anglers are down 5 million and hunter numbers are down 1.5 million, but the number of watchers is up 8.2 million. This is troubling because sportsmen (anglers and hunters) pay for conservation through their license fees, various stamps, and federal excise taxes on equipment (guns, ammo and fishing gear).
Watchers enjoy wildlife thanks to sportsmen, and eventually this must change. If the number of sportsmen continues to decline, watchers will be forced to make up the difference, perhaps through excise taxes on bird seed, feeders, nest boxes, field guides, optics, and cameras.
The notion that watchers should pay their fair share for conservation is not new. It's been around since the passage of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1980. The biggest obstacle to such a tax is resistance from manufacturers of the products that watchers use. I've been to meetings where excise taxes have been discussed, and I'm certain manufacturers of watchers' products will never voluntarily agree to taxes that increase the price of their products. Unlike farsighted hunters and anglers who demanded their equipment be taxed to provide conservation dollars for the future, watchers have been content to enjoy the free ride provided by sportsmen.
In 1937, the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson Act) placed a federal excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition, with the proceeds distributed to the states (based on a formula that considers both population size and land area) for wildlife research and restoration. In 1950, the Dingell-Johnson Act established a federal excise tax on sport fishing equipment, with the proceeds reapportioned to the state for fisheries projects. It's time for watchers to do the same.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1980, commonly known as the Nongame Act, encourages states "to develop conservation plans for nongame fish and wildlife of ecological, educational, aesthetic, cultural, recreational, economic or scientific value." But the act has never been sufficiently funded.
If the funding base provided by sportsmen continues to erode, watchers will be forced to pay to protect wildlife resources or watch as they disappear.
The decline of hunting and fishing is due to an aging population and changing lifestyles. Most people live in cities and suburbs and have lost their connection to the land. Divorce is common, and few single moms hunt and fish. And we're all just too busy. Hunting and fishing takes time mastering the skills and actually participating is a lifestyle in itself.
And then there's the cost. Just compare how much sportsmen and watchers spend each year. It's no wonder watching is booming.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or via email to email@example.com.