August 16th, 2012 by
Fishing at Eureka Lake

Fishing at Eureka Lake. Credit: Rachel Gardner (RaGardner4)/Flickr

Last year, 90 million Americans (about 38 percent of the population) engaged in some form of wildlife recreation — from hunting and fishing to wildlife watching. According to a report released yesterday by the Department of the Interior (DOI), this equaled $145 billion spent on licenses, gear, trips and more — making up one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. And while the idea of hunting and fishing might initially sound counterintuitive to conservation, the truth is that licenses and other expenses for these types of recreation activities help fund conservation initiatives.

In 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act was passed, followed 12 years later by the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act, whose goal was to provide funding for wildlife and fish conservation to U.S. states and territories. These acts formed the basis of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program, which administers funding to the states through a grant program. This grant program is funded largely thanks to wildlife recreation.

According to a WSFR informational brochure, “Industry partners pay excise taxes and import duties on equipment and gear manufactured for purchase by hunters, anglers, boaters, archers and recreational shooters.” Add this to taxes on motorboat and small engine fuels, firearms and ammunition, goods imported for sport fishing and boating, and fishing and archery items, and you have a nice chunk of change to distribute to states for conservation initiatives. For instance, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources claims that 95 percent of the funds it uses for fish and wildlife management, hunting and fishing regulations and habitat protection come from the funding provided through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts.

Thankfully that funding appears to be increasing, as the new DOI report reveals significant increases in hunters and fishers since 2006 — the last time this five-year report was published — which bucked the declining trends of the last several reports. In the announcement, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says, “Seeing more people fishing, hunting and getting outdoors is great news for America’s economy and conservation heritage. Outdoor recreation and tourism are huge economic engines for local communities and the country, so it is vital that we continue to support policies and investments that help Americans get outside, learn to fish or go hunting.”

For a program that is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, having increased engagement is a wonderful present — that will keep giving back to us all.