America receives good news about the future of hunting
March 15, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Fifteen years or so ago, I received a letter from a estate manager in England who predicted that the hunting environment in the United States was in such a decline that Americans would soon have to adopt an estate-type, game management and hunting plan, similar to that practiced in the British Isles. As I understood it, the British estate-managed game plan at that time was primarily a profit-making effort in which fees were constantly spiraling upward.
The letter arrived at a time when the number of hunters in the United States seemed to be in free fall, dropping by the hundreds of thousands, even millions from their peak shortly after World War Two. Compounding the problem was erosion of huntable acreage due to new communities being developed around most US cities, freeway construction, changes in farming practices, and the movement of non-huntingeven anti-huntingcity dwellers in large rural land tracts.
The decline continued as huntingeither for sport or the tablewas demonized in schools and new form of extreme sports competed for recreational time with TV and videogames and the Internet. In addition, many state fish and game agencies, in concert with legislative bodies, made entry to the hunting ranks more and more difficult.
At the time that letter arrived, I viewed it with suspicion, partly because I thought we still had a sufficient reserve of huntable acreage, even if it necessitated longer travel times to reach from larger population centers, and we still had a variety of other options, including hunting leases in some rural areas, public land tracks, and cooperatives.
But the number of hunters continued to shrinkor at least the number of hunters who purchased licenses and tags. Needless to say, many hunters and people in the shooting sports industry combined with knowledgeable lawmakers and state game agencies to develop strategies that would turn the ebbing tide of the American hunting tradition.
So it was very welcome news indeed when the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, proudly announced in February that there had been a significant 3.6% rise in the number of paid hunting license holders for 2009, calling it one of the most encouraging signs for hunting in recent years.
“This is great news for our industry and everyone associated with hunting,” said Steve Sanetti, NSSF president and CEO, in a press release. “Many efforts are at work to build hunting participation, and they are paying off. More people are enjoying the outdoors and sharing the tradition of hunting with family and friends. Also, more hunting license sales translate into more funds for wildlife conservation.”
Underscoring Sanetti’s words was the announcement that the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would be distributed $749 million in excise tax revenues to states and territorial fish and game departments in the next fiscal year. Of that figure, $79 million was earmarked for hunting education and safety programs, which often include new public shooting ranges. (A state by state breakdown on the distribution of funds returned to the states under the Dingell-Johnson and Pittman-Robertson programs is available online at: fws.gov.)
A lot of that money came from non-hunting shooters through the increased excise taxes derived from the vigorous shooting industry economy of the past few years.
In its license fee report, the US Fish and Wildlife Service reported a total of 14,974,534 paid license holders for 2009, the largest figure since 2002 and an increase of 526,494 over 2008. The 3.6% rise in paid license holders represents the largest year-over-year increase since 1974. (A “paid license holder” is one individual regardless of the number of licenses purchased.)
NSSF cited several reasons for the increase, ranging from programs launched by many state wildlife agencies over the last decade to increase hunting participation to a difficult economy that motivated hunters to fill their freezers with game rather than store-bought meat. Also, hunters who were among the unemployed or had their work hours reduced used some of their free time to go hunting.
Coordinated efforts of state wildlife agencies, conservation organizations and the firearms industry appear to have halted a decades-long decline in hunting license sales, which since 2005 have held at the 14.5-million level until the jump in 2009. NSSF has played a key role promoting hunting participation with its programs and websites. Through its Hunting Heritage Partnership program, NSSF has provided state agencies with $3.8 million to fund initiatives designed to encourage hunting among all age groups. Also, through Families Afield, a partnership effort of NSSF, the US Sportsmen’s Alliance and National Wild Turkey Federation started in 2004, 30 states have made it easier for youth to begin hunting at a younger age with licensed adults, even before spending the time and money to enroll in a hunter education course in most cases. NSSF websites such as WingshootingUSA.org make it easy for hunters to locate gamebird preserves, where youth can easily get started in hunting and where inactive adult hunters can revive their interest.
NSSF also saw another positive sign for hunting that is contrary to claims of a wholesale decline in hunting participation, paid license holders have increased in 24 states in the five-year period from 2005 to 2009.
“Due to continued urbanization and changes in our culture, hunting will face significant challenges for the foreseeable future, but at the same time hunting remains an extremely important activity in the lives of millions of Americans, as the latest hunting licenses sales figures confirm,” said Sanetti.
NSSF points out that the actual number of hunters who go afield in any given year is greater than the total of paid hunting license holders in that year. FWS figures do not account for certain state exemptions for purchasing a hunting license, including for some military veterans. In addition, many states allow landowners and active military to hunt without purchasing a license; also, lifetime license holders and youth hunters who do not fall within the required license purchasing age are not included in the federal government’s figures.
According to an NSSF-funded study carried out by Southwick Associates, the pool of hunters in America is much larger than previously thought. The study, released last fall, estimated that 21.8 million people purchased a hunting license at least once in the last five years, suggesting that the hunting population is significantly larger than the number of licenses sold in any one year.
Hunters are the backbone of conservation funding in America, contributing more than $1 billion each year through the purchase of licenses, tags, permits and stamps and through excise taxes paid on firearms and ammunition. For example, proceeds from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps, a required purchase for migratory waterfowl hunting, have purchased more than 5 million acres of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Also, the license numbers do not include those large segments of native populations in Alaska that hunt under specially-managed subsistence hunting programs.
NSSF, using its new 12-state hunting license sales index, anticipated the national increase in paid hunting license holders by reporting a 3.5% increase in license sales last spring.
“It’s gratifying to see how accurate our state index was, which gives us confidence in future index-based hunting license sales figures,” said Jim Curcuruto, NSSF’s director of industry research and analysis.
NSSF said it would announce its state index hunting license sales report for 2010 sometime this spring.
Putting an exclamation point on the good news on the future of hunting is the fact that the Obama administration has announced a $1.7 billion budget for the FWS agency in fiscal 2012, an increase of $47.9 million over the agency’s 2010 budget.
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