The Sportsman's Dollar

The equation is powerful and deceptively simple. In the Pacific Northwest, loggers are losing their jobs as cutting of old-growth timber is being increasingly restricted. At the same time, miles of trout and salmon spawning streams are in physical ruin; critical habitat destroyed by decades of abusive logging practices on adjacent land. The solution? Put those newly unemployed loggers to work restoring the watersheds and rebuilding salmon and steelhead runs, thereby creating increased recreational opportunities and related jobs-throughout the region.

This sort of thinking is a large part of recent forest plans put forward by President Bill Clinton and numerous federal and state resource agencies in response to a 1991 court-ordered freeze on federal sales of Northwestern old-growth timber. What began as a nobody-wins confrontation pitting owls versus jobs and conservation versus employment has, by a sensible shift in attitude, become a force for positive change. One result is stream-rebuilding projects that are progressing as you read this.

In pressing for stream restoration as part of a forest-.plan package at a recent Oregon conference, numerous conservationists wore lapel buttons that read "It's the fish, stupid!" The buttons, courtesy of Trout Unlimited, were a play on the well-known "It's the economy, stupid!" buzzwords that were prominent in Clinton's presidential campaign.

Actually, it's both. In many respects and in many regions of the country, fish and game are the economy, or at least a large part of it. As we described in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, collective annual spending by America's 40 million sportsmen on hunting and fishing is enormous: some $40.9 billion during 1991, as a recently released federal survey shows. And because of "ripple" or multiplier effects, the national impact of that spending is much greater: S 106.1 billion overall in 1991, including the support of 1.3 million jobs nationwide.

But more than big bucks are involved here. The bottom line is sending a clear message: good habitat is good business. Without well-managed forests and rangelands and without available, clean water, there would be no fish and game...no sportsmen spending billions of dollars ... and in many areas, no jobs.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that a deteriorating environment can spell economic disaster. Northwestern salmon populations have crashed, for example, victimized by dams, faulty irrigation projects, overfishing, and spawning-habitat destruction caused by logging. In Oregon, the state's annual goal of 200,000 cohos returning to spawn has been met only once in the past twenty years. In 1993, there were so few hatchery salmon returning that Oregon's hatchery programs were jeopardized, and the situation with genetically superior wild fish was even worse. Meanwhile, a Northwestern coastal fishing industry that once contributed more than $1 billion annually to regional economies and supported more than 60,000 jobs may be shut down entirely this year as a result.

Those kinds of losses have forced economists nationwide to recognize that environmental concern and sporting traditions also can represent big bucks. The analysts who once sat in dreary basements pondering global wheat prices are now carrying their clipboards to marinas and duck blinds, asking hunters and fishermen how much they spend for what. Using a variety of new computer models, the analysts then crank those numbers with other census and economic information, which in turn relate hunting and fishing directly to dollars, jobs, and families in both regional and national economies. The results are inspirational.

Migratory bird hunting is a good example. Even though wetland and breeding habitat losses have drastically cut North American duck populations from historic levels, migratory bird hunting still accounted for 51.4 billion in retail spending nationwide in 1991. This spending generated an overall economic impact of almost $4 billion, including nearly $I billion in household income for families from California to Maine, according to a report just released by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA). State-by-state economic effects are even more relevant because they're closer to home (see the accompanying chart of the top ten migratory-bird states ranked by economic impact). Meanwhile, national, state, and local efforts to preserve wetlands and thereby enhance migratory bird populations are clearly more than some vague ecological guilt trip. More ducks mean more bucks for the American economy as a whole.

Sometimes the effects of increasing wildlife resources can be enormous. Wild turkeys, for example, have grown in number from about 500,000 birds nationwide in 1959 to 3.5 million birds in 1990, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation, and there are now huntable turkey populations in every state except Alaska. Whitetail deer have shown even greater population growth, from a low of about 350,000 animals in 1900 (when the federal Lacey Act ended interstate traffic in market-hunted game animals) to current estimates ranging as high as 25 million animals nationwide. And as we pointed out in Part 2 of this series, deer hunting has created its own economic boom, with an annual national impact of about $16.6 billion and supporting more than 190,000 jobs nationwide.

One fascinating result of the growth of deer and turkey hunting has been the expansion of industries making the camouflage gear and clothing used in both turkey hunting and bowhunting for deer. In 1980, for example, Jim Crumley of Roanoke, Virginia, patented his Trebark® design camouflage, which was then available on two products. Now his design is licensed to more than 200 different companies and appears on more than 400 products nationwide.

Today you can find camouflage in this or other competing designs on everything from coveralls to binoculars to underwear, women's bathing suits, and even toilet paper. As just one indicator of camouflage sales growth, we checked some old catalogs from Cabela's, one of the country's biggest mail-order retailers of outdoor gear, which presently mails about 40 million catalogs annually. The company's 1979 fall catalog carried six pages of camouflage items; by fall of 1993 that had grown to forty-two pages-an increase of 700 percent!

No one hunts or fishes just to create an economic impact. Nevertheless, the dollars--and their power--can't be denied.

Other success stories also illustrate the relationship between improving resources and growing economies. Along the Texas Gulf Coast, for example, redfish have made a remarkable comeback since the early 1980s thanks to the elimination of commercial fishing, tighter sport-fishing limits, and an aggressive hatchery program. And according to a recent Texas A&M University study, fishing-related travel to the Texas Gulf Coast now contributes more than $1 billion annually to that state's economy.

There's a similar situation along the Atlantic Coast, where striped bass are now present in numbers not seen for decades, again thanks to stringent catch limits. In 1988, for example, nonresident anglers spent $92.7 million on marine angling in Massachusetts, according to a University of Massachusetts study released this spring. That spending supported 3,300 jobs, created $44.7 million in household income, and added $8.7 million to state and local tax revenues. That nonresident spending represents "new" money corning into the state. Combining this with resident spending on marine angling puts the overall total of local jobs created at more than 19,000. Unfortunately, much of this activity is based on striped bass because populations of Northeastern groundfish such as flounder and cod as well as offshore species such as bluefin tuna have been nearly wiped out by too many years of liberal regulations. Even the recently abundant bluefish appear on a downward spiral. The long-term recovery of these species could obviously have a powerful dollar effect on that state's economy as well as that of others nearby, in which case everybody would win: the states, the fishermen, and not least of all, the fish that make all those jobs possible in the first place.

The relationship between fish and jobs can be equally amazing on a smaller scale. Upstate New York's Salmon River is a 14-mile-long Lake Ontario tributary that began receiving runs of chinook salmon and steelhead during the 1970s as part of the wider development of Great Lakes fisheries. Now Salmon River anglers are spending $10 million a year on their fishing, according to a recent state survey. That's nearly $1 million per mile of river! This represents real cash-out-of-pocket spending, New York fisheries biologist Les Wedge told us; the overall economic impact of that spending is substantially greater.

The Salmon River also provides an example of how economics is being used in resource management decisions. Twenty years ago, when hordes of biz chinook salmon started returning from Lake Ontario, the state permitted salmon snagging in the river on the theory that these hatchery salmon were about to die anyway and would otherwise be wasted. Unfortunately, over time snagging grew into a grotesque October free-far-all, complete with riverside fist fights and banks littered with salmon carcasses ripped open so the roe could be extracted and later sold as bait. But when the state decided snagging should be outlawed, some area merchants objected, concerned about the potential economic loss. So New York officials made extensive angler surveys, which showed that doing away with snagging would cut only about $230,000 from the $10 million a year spent by anglers here. Partly as a result of that study, snagging was eliminated as of October 18, 1993.

Wedge and other New York officials are quick to point out that economic considerations were not the state's primary reason for stopping snagging. "Basically it was because snagging is contrary to the doctrine of fair chase," Wedge said. Fair chase means simply that you take your game and fish fairly or not at all, and it is the basis for numerous fish and game regulations nationwide.

Obviously, there's more to hunting and fishing than mere dollars. Nobody goes fishing simply to create economic impacts, or hunts with the intent of boosting state tax revenues or creating jobs. After all, these sports have been part of America's cultural heritage for more than two centuries. But their overwhelming effects on America's economy are just being recognized, which is why we've given them such attention in this series.

As we've shown, the power of the sportsman's dollar is awesome. Because one out of every five Americans age sixteen or older hunts and/or fishes, the amount of money spent nationwide on those activities is huge; and the overall impact of that spending is even more awesome. We've quoted the numbers over and over, but one particular statistic is worth reemphasizing: one out of every hundred jobs in all sectors of the American economy is supported by sportsmen's spending.

And as we've also shown, these dollar figures, big as they are, start with one sportsman at a time. Not long ago we ran into a Stamford, Connecticut, barber named Tony DiGiovanni who also happens to be a bowhunter with an impressive collection of trophies. Tony is forty-one and has been hunting for the past twenty years or so, and like millions of others, he is part of a sporting tradition that pumps billions of dollars through the U.S. economy every year. "It's not easy for the average person to afford a big-game hunting trip," Tony told us, explaining that he cuts hair all year to be able to pay for his annual trip to the Rockies or Canada. Then, pretty much summing up the whole complex economic picture, he smiled and said, "Now, that's a lot of haircuts!"

From the June 1994 issue of Field & Stream magazine.