OUTTHERE – Wildlife watching, especially around the home, and fishing have gained popularity in recent years while participation in hunting has declined slightly, according to a report released last month on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey.
The 2016 National Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation national survey shows 101.6 million Americans – 40 percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older – participated in wildlife-related activities, such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching, in 2016.
The survey is conducted every five years in cooperation with the U.S. Census Bureau.
The findings reflect a continued interest in engaging in the outdoors, according to a Department of Interior report. “These activities are drivers behind an economic powerhouse, where participants spent $156 billion – the most in the last 25 years, adjusted for inflation.”
Overall fishing participation increased 8.2 percent over the last five years, contributing to growth of nearly 20 percent over the last 10 years, the report says. Fishing participation reached 35.8 million in 2016, its highest mark since 1991.
“This report absolutely underscores the need to increase public access to public lands across the United States,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “Hunting and fishing are a part of the American heritage.”
In August, Zinke announced a proposal to expand hunting and fishing opportunities at 10 national wildlife refuges, and he announced the initial stages of a plan to acquire land to make the Bureau of Land Management Sabinoso Wilderness Area accessible to hunters, hikers, and wildlife watchers for the first time.
The survey, the 13th in a series conducted nearly every five years since 1955, shows that the most substantial increases in participation involve wildlife-watching – observing and photographing wildlife.
The report indicates these activities surged 20 percent from 2011 to 2016, from 71.8 million to 86 million participants during that time. Expenditures by wildlife watchers also rose sharply – 28 percent – between 2011 and 2016, from $59.1 billion to $75.9 billion.
Around-the-home wildlife-watching increased 18 percent from 2011, from 68.6 million in 2011 to 81.1 million participants in 2016. More modest gains were made for away-from-home wildlife watchers: 5 percent increase from 2011 to 2016, from 22.5 million to 23 million participants.
Hunting participation dropped by about 2 million participants, but still remained strong at 11.5 million hunters. Total expenditures by hunters declined 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion. However, expenditures for related items such as taxidermy and camping equipment experienced a 27 percent uptick, and hunting trip-related expenses increased 15 percent.
Hunters, who are required to buy hunting licenses that support fish and wildlife agencies, and federal “duck stamps” that fund wetland restoration, are the backbone of American wildlife conservation, Zinke said.
Hunters and shooters pay a federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment that’s distributed back to the states for wildlife-related programs.
“No one does more for our wildlife and or wild places than hunters,” David Allen, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president. “Any decline in hunting numbers, real or perceived, is of great concern since hunting provides the lion’s share of funding for nationwide conservation work….”
The latest survey also gathered two new categories of data: archery and target shooting. Findings show there are more than 32 million target shooters using firearms and 12.4 million people engaged in archery, not including hunting.
Anglers pay similar fees and taxes for state licenses and fishing gear.
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