I have been talking a lot these days about the economic value of hunting and fishing.
Today I am discussing that topic at a media event sponsored by the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation, National Shooting Sports Foundation, American Sportfishing Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association, all great groups focused on improving access to wildlife-related sports.
I am a hunter and an angler, have been all my life. I learned the skills from my dad, and his enthusiasm for the outdoors fed the little spark in me until that spark grew into a passion for fish and wildlife that led me to where I am today.
I know firsthand the importance of sportsmen and –women, and I love sharing that story.
The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation that we released a few weeks ago shows that the number of hunters and anglers in 2011 was up 10 percent over 2006.
This increase reverses decades of declines and is great news for the nation.
In 2011, according to the survey, hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers spent $145 billion on related gear, trips and other purchases such as licenses, tags and land leasing and ownership.
These wildlife supporters made purchases throughout small communities, boosting sales at sporting goods stores, guide and outfitter services, gas stations, cafes, hotels and many other enterprises.
These contributions also led to jobs at these same businesses. And they generated needed tax revenue for local economies.
A recent study actually showed that proximity to a National Wildlife Refuge, with all its outdoor opportunities, increases home value and helps support the surrounding community’s tax base.
In these times of fiscal restraint, when budgets are being slashed, we need to do all we can to make sure hunting and fishing remain viable pastimes. We cannot afford to lose the money sportspeople pump into the economies of local communities … or the enormous gifts they give conservation.
Many folks will just shake their heads when the strongest conservationist they know turns out to be an avid hunter or angler. But I know hunting, fishing and conservation go together like red, white and blue.
Sportsmen and -women were some of the earliest conservationists and remain among its most dependable supporters.
The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, which collects excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear and returns the money to the states for conservation, got its start thanks largely to the support of manufacturers and users of such gear. Imagine! Taxing themselves for conservation.
WSFR, now celebrating its 75th anniversary, has provided more than $14 billion for conservation efforts since 1937.
An example of the impact sportspeople have on conservation came just last week.
The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission met, and we learned more about the success of stepped-up conservation efforts in the Prairie Pothole Region, a key waterfowl habitat.
The Service had earlier announced plans to focus additional Migratory Bird Conservation Fund money on protecting these important grassland habitats … money that mostly comes from import duties on the sales of arms and ammunition.
And as a result, the Service has used more than $30 million this year to put conservation easements in place on tens of thousands of additional acres, helping to stem the loss of these important habitats.
As a waterfowl hunter, it makes me feel pretty good to protect “America’s Duck Factory.”
If you are a hunter or angler, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. If you know a hunter or angler, thank them for their incredible support of the economy and conservation.