BOISE – A drop-off in revenue from out-of-state residents coming to Idaho to hunt and fish is crimping funding at Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game.
Non-resident deer and elk tags from Idaho Fish & Game used to sell out, but they don’t now, Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore told legislative budget writers this morning. “We had a quota, so they would sell out early each year and we had that revenue in the bank … because we were a premier destination.” As of the end of 2012, Moore said, unsold non-resident deer and elk tags have added up to $9.3 million – about $2.3 million a year – compared to their height in 2008.
“A decade ago … our non-resident license and tag sales were 54 percent of all license revenue, with the remainder, 46 percent, from residents,” Moore said. “Today, due to the great recession, perception of wolf impacts on our big game, and the non-resident fee increase in 2009, non-resident sales have declined since ’08 and now the split is closer to 50-50.”
He noted, “Remember, non-residents comprise only 30 percent of license buyers. Non-resident hunters are 6 percent of license buyers, but provide 37 percent of all license revenue.”
In 2009, Idaho Fish & Game proposed a fee increase that would charge more for the most popular hunts, but lawmakers instead approved an increase only on out-of-state residents.The agency hasn’t increased resident license fees in more than a decade.
Moore said if it hadn’t been for the economic downturn, the 2009 fee increase would have boosted the department’s revenues. “We’ve learned that our non-residents are price-sensitive when the economy is soft,” he said. ”A portion of our hunters are affected hugely by the economy.”
Based on the department’s marketing research, many who hunt in Idaho work in the construction industry, which was particularly hard-hit in the recession, Moore said. He now expects it to take five years before those non-resident sales fully recover.
Moore said there’s also a perception that Idaho’s big-game hunting has declined due to wolves and other predators, but other states, like Colorado, that don’t have wolf issues have seen some similar declines in non-resident license sales. “We think it’s mostly tied to the economy,” he said. “There’s still a lot of elk hunting opportunity in Idaho.”
Overall, Fish & Game is concerned about young Idahoans becoming hunters and anglers in the future, Moore said. Young people seem more interested in electronic devices than getting out into nature. “This is a trend that’s continued for some time,” Moore said. “Over the past 20 years, our population has increased by 57 percent or 600,000. Our license sales, however, have only increased by 7.5 percent or 46,000.” That’s even though Idaho has kept the cost of fishing and hunting down for residents; the state is the second-cheapest among its 11 neighbors for deer and elk, and it’s the cheapest for fishing.
To cope with tight revenues, Fish & Game has taken measures include holding vacant positions open for six months to save money, Moore said. It’s stepping up nationwide marketing, reaching out to sportsmen, and developing new elk management and predation management plans. The agency also has determined that is customer base is 2.5 times greater than those who purchase a license each year, so it’s proposing legislation this year to allow for three-year fishing, hunting or combination licenses, in an effort to “reduce the churn of sportsmen each year.”
“Only 10 percent of people in our license database have had a license every year for the last five years – that surprised me,” Moore said. “I thought it would be higher. It certainly shows that we do have a huge customer base out there.”
Idaho sells about 300,000 resident licenses a year to adults. It has about 750,000 people in its database of those who’ve purchased licenses within the past five years.
Moore is hopeful that the three-year license will help with the department’s revenue picture; the bill is scheduled for a hearing in a Senate committee on Wednesday. “I’m having a tough time imagining opposition to this thing, but I never second-guess our legislature,” he said.
A recent economic benefit study showed direct spending in Idaho related to fishing activities contributed nearly $500 million to Idaho’s economy – more than $11 million of that related to Lake Coeur d’Alene alone, Moore said. Hunting expenditures added up to a similar amount, about $477 million.
Idaho ranks No. 10 in the nation for the amount of money spent by non-residents on hunting in the state; it ranks third for spending by non-residents on fishing.