More people are enjoying wildlife-related recreation, according to a new federal survey.
Conducted at the request of state fish and wildlife agencies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation found the number of hunters (13.7 million) grew 9 percent from 2006 to 2011. Angler numbers (33.1 million) increased 11 percent during the same time period. And the number of wildlife watchers (71.8 million) held steady from 2006 to 2011 while increasing 9 percent over the last 10 years.
Even more significant is the economic impact these pastimes represent. Hunters spent $34 billion on equipment, licenses, travel and other related expenses in 2011. Anglers spent $41.8 billion on fishing-related activities. And watchers, the largest group, spent $55 billion feeding, watching and photographing wildlife. That's a $131 billion economy (nearly 1 percent of gross domestic product) directly attributable to wildlife recreation.
The survey is the twelfth in a series conducted every five years since 1955. The purpose of these surveys is to collect information about Americans who hunt, fish and watch wildlife. Information was collected by the U.S. Census Bureau based on interviews with 48,627 households.
Though the survey focuses on people age 16 and older, it also collects some information on children 6 to 15. Those results indicate that in 2011, 1.8 million kids hunted, 8.5 million fished and 11.7 million watched wildlife.
One of the more interesting findings of the survey is that while hunters and anglers pay their way, watchers do not. Hunters, for example, spent more than $986 million for licenses, federal duck stamps and various state-authorized hunting stamps in 2011. Anglers spent more than $600 million on licenses and stamps.
Watchers, on the other hand, are not required to buy a license or pay an excise tax that would support wildlife. Unlike the hunters, anglers and gear companies who support wildlife-supporting tariffs, wildlife-watching equipment manufacturers and users are unwilling to support such a financial burden.
Imposing a federal excise tax on bird food, feeders and optics, for example, would require the support of manufacturers and wildlife watchers, and it just isn't there. Perhaps a voluntary, collectable $10 annual federal wildlife watching stamp would work. At least it would give watchers their own way to support wildlife conservation.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.