Idaho's Fish & Game Department receives no state general funds, instead operating solely on hunting and fishing license dollars, federal funds, power company mitigation funds and revenues from special license plate sales. Hunting and fishing license funds are 46 percent of the department's total funding, and more than half comes from non-residents.
However, non-resident license buyers have been declining since 2008. Non-resident deer tags have dropped from 15,800 then to 9,200 now. “That's a 40 percent loss in tag sales in the last three years,” F&G Director Virgil Moore told JFAC today. Non-resident elk tags have seen a similar trend, dropping from a long-stable 13,000 a year, which hit the quota, to about 8,00 now. “These two tags make up the bulk of our non-resident revenue,” Moore said. “So this is a very important customer to the department and to the state of Idaho. Not only do these folks pay for the most expensive product that we sell, they usually spend four to five times what they spend on licenses … when they come to hunt,” and some as much as 10 times. “So it's a loss to our rural economy.”
Resident tag sales also are down from the high of 62,000 to about 58,000, a 7 percent decline, Moore said. “Some of this is just the general economy. Some of it has to do with issues associated with elk herd status, and some of it has to do with people's view of whether or not they can get an elk or opportunity out there.” Strong fishing license sales and wolf tag sales have boosted revenue in the last six months, Moore said, but haven't made up the last three years' losses.
Moore said the shift from running out of tags - they routinely used to sell out - to having leftovers has put the department “in the position of we've got product available … and they have a very short shelf life. After the season is over, they have no value whatsoever; we can't stockpile those and sell 'em next year. So we undertook some marketing last year.” The department created “I-Hunt” and “I-Fish” websites, aimed at both residents and nonresidents, and launched Internet banner ads on news sites, targeting “hunter-rich states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and California.” “The first six months of the fiscal year, our license revenue is up 5 percent, and it coincides with this campaign,” Moore said. “We only spent $35,000 on this campaign, and its impact is huge.”
“The reason folks said they were staying away from Idaho was wolves, the elk herd status, the economy and the price of the tag,” Moore said. “But the good news is wolves have not killed all our elk.” Bull elk numbers now exceed objectives in 20 of Idaho's 29 zones, he said. “There's still very good hunting in many areas,” though the zones that have been impacted are among the state's most popular.