Survey: Wildlife activities big business

Americans spent more than $150 billion participating in fishing, hunting and other wildlife-related activities in 2016, according to the latest results of a survey tracking their pursuits.

The Interior Department released the preliminary results of the latest Fish and Wildlife Service survey tracking participation and spending in wildlife-related activities. The agency has conducted the survey nearly every five years since 1955.

Federal and state agencies rely on the survey results to manage wildlife and public lands, while organizations and businesses use the information to identify trends and market products. Conducted by the Census Bureau, the survey is based on a 22,416-household sample surveyed through computer-assisted telephone and in-person interviews.

For 2016, the survey found 101.6 million Americans — about 40 percent of the population aged 16 years and older — participated in wildlife-related activities. They spent a total of $156 billion, the most in 25 years in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Whiling there were declines in the number of hunters, the number of people fishing and observing and photographing wildlife increased.

Hunting participation dropped by about 2 million participants between 2011 and 2016, although there were still 11.5 million hunters. Total annual expenditures by hunters declined 29 percent from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion. However, expenditures for such items as taxidermy and camping equipment rose 27-percent, while spending on hunting trips rose 15 percent.

Meanwhile, more Americans went fishing. The survey results reflected an 8 percent increase in fishing participation — from 33.1 million in 2011 to 35.8 million in 2016. The greatest increase in participation — 10 percent — was seen in the Great Lakes area. Total spending by anglers nationwide rose 2 percent from 2011 to 2016 — from $45 billion to $46.1 billion.

The biggest increase in participation was reported for wildlife watching with an increase from 71.8 million in 2011 to 86 million in 2016 — a 20 percent gain. Spending by wildlife watchers increased even more at 28 percent, from $59.1 billion in 2011 to $75.9 billion in 2016. Around-the-home wildlife-watching increased 18 percent — from 68.6 million participants in 2011 to 81.1 million in 2016.
A 5 percent gain was reported for away-from-home wildlife watchers — from 22.5 million to 23 million.

The latest survey also gathered two new categories of data for  target shooting and archery. The results found there are more than 32 million target shooters using firearms and 12.4 million people engaged in archery, not including hunting.

John Frampton, president and chief executive officer of the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports, said he’s grateful for the efforts of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to recognize the economic, recreational and traditional values of hunting and target shooting. “Although the numbers of hunters have declined, we are optimistic they will rebound as a result of Secretary Zinke’s leadership, state wildlife agencies, non-government organizations and industries working together. Hunting in this country is not only part of our national heritage, it is important to our country’s economy, as indicated by the expenditures in the survey.”

David Allen, president and chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said hunters play an important role in conserving wildlife and wildlife habitat. “Any decline in hunting numbers, real or perceived, is of great concern since hunting provides the lion’s share of funding for nationwide conservation work thanks to excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. The RMEF remains committed to growing and ensuring the future of our hunting heritage as well as elk, other wildlife and their habitat.”