Hunters Beware! The Wildlife Watchers Are Coming!!!

By Peter Muller

In some of our past articles in the C.A.S.H. Courier, we have pointed out that the numbers of hunters have decreased consistently over the last  twenty-five years, and the median age of hunters is steadily increasing. None of this bodes well for businesses or agencies that depend on hunting for their revenue.  In economic terms, hunting is a “dying business.”

On the other hand, the number of wildlife watchers is increasing. The concomitant spending increase of the wildlife watchers is now far outstripping the fiscal contributions that the hunting community has been claiming to make to the local and state economies.

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The wildlife management agency of each state, along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, relies for its funding to a large degree on the monies brought in by hunters, both directly through license sales  as well as indirectly through federal allocation of funds (Pittman-Robertson), based on a formula in which the number of license sales is a critical factor.  With the money spent on “recreational enjoyment of wildlife” shifting in all states from hunting to wildlife watching the agencies are now starting to look for ways to tap into wildlife watching spending to make up for the losses due to the diminishing revenue from hunters.
In an article published on Sunday, September 15, 2013 by Laura Lundquist, a staff writer for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, titled “Wages from Wildlife Watchers — FWP [Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks] Takes Measured Approach to Adding New Wildlife Stakeholders”  the imbalance of the potential contributions from hunters and wildlife watchers in Montana is discussed.

Lundquist states in part:

The dwindling number of sportsmen may require FWP to turn to a new funding pool: the nongame user. Wildlife watchers and photographers are a growing segment of the population that outnumbers sportsmen 5-to-1 nationwide. In 2011, wildlife watchers spent more than $400 million on viewing equipment and travel in Montana….

In 2011, when the number of hunters appears to have rebounded nationwide [Lundquist’s statement was in error, please see C.A.S.H. article for an explanation of this common error at], 50,000 fewer hunters ventured into Montana’s wild lands, according to the survey. That estimate is not exact, but FWP financial analyst Hank Worsech said license sales supports that decline. …hunters are retiring from the game and fewer youth are coming in. Half of hunters are 50 or older….
FWP depends on license sales for half its budget because it receives no money from the state’s general fund. Federal money accounts for most of the rest. “We operate in a world of, ‘We have a product to sell and we run on the revenue we collect.’ We’re different from other state agencies — we run more like a business,” said FWP Finance Division administrator Sue Daly. License sales were brisk enough until four years ago. But since 2009, sales totals have decreased while the bills continued to increase, putting the agency in the red.

This “problem” has become common in all states and the game agencies are wrestling with how to access revenues from the “new stakeholders.”

C.A.S.H. would like to address two aspects of this:

1) Should the current Wildlife Management agencies of the various states be given the additional responsibility of managing the wildlife watching programs?

2) How can wildlife watchers participate in the funding of wildlife management programs?

Most people familiar with the leadership and management of the wildlife management agency in their state realize that the entire agency from the head to the enforcement division, and down to the staff-level is rooted in the hunting/fishing/trapping culture.

A few years ago, I had a chance to be in a meeting with the then-commissioner of the New York State DEC.  He had been a state legislator prior to his appointment as Commissioner of the DEC.  I had at one time lived in his voting district, and had met with him on numerous occasions to ask for his support for animal-protective legislation.  He was always responsive to our requests and, in fact, had sponsored some of our proposed bills. When we met with him in his role as commissioner of the DEC, and asked him to consider relaxing the DEC policy against allowing immunocontraception of deer in New York State, he and his staff became intransigent on that issue. After the meeting, he took me aside out of earshot of everybody else and explained, “Peter, you have to realize I now have a different  constituency I have to serve.”

That was a telling experience. Judging from their actions, publications, and statements to media, the hunting/fishing/trapping culture is solidly entrenched in these agencies, even though these activities are unable to financially support them. To pump money into these agencies from a source of “new stakeholders” (e.g. wildlife watchers) without eradicating the existing “kill-culture” would simply go toward maintaining the kill-culture embedded in these agencies for an additional period of time. Let these agencies collapse under the increasing inability to meet expenses.  I’m sure there will demands by them for subsidies from the general fund of the state.  Hopefully the state legislators will have enough sense to resist their cries.

The answer to our first question about whether wildlife watching programs should be managed by the existing game agencies seems to be a clear “no way.” – It won’t work and would simply continue an unacceptable perversion that became entrenched in our state and federal government.

How can wildlife watchers participate in the funding of wildlife management programs?
The answer seems to be that either a totally new agency which is not a component of the current wildlife management agency, or an existing agency not related to or subject to pressure from the current kill-culture agency, is needed. The existing state agencies that seem to fit that description, at least in some states, or with some redefinitions and sharpening of their mission statements, seem to be the tourism agencies.

If a department of tourism feels no pressure to promote hunting/fishing/trapping in their state, they could be entrusted with managing and promoting wildlife watching in the state and benefit from an infusion of revenues derived from wildlife watching to finance those efforts. Otherwise, a new state agency would have to be founded which promotes wildlife watching and is funded by revenues from wildlife watching.

What are some ways of deriving funds from wildlife watching for such an agency?
Several options readily come to mind:

Fee-based designated wildlife watching areas, with per-visit, annual, or lifetime fees for access and parking.

A training program to certify individuals as guides for wildlife watching ventures. The “wildlife watching guide-license” would be renewable annually (with continuing education required) and it would permit holders to charge for their services. A percentage of their fees would benefit the wildlife watching agency.

Fee-based guide-led tours in specifically designated wildlife watching areas.

Tourist shops carrying books, photographic and optical equipment, etc. in designated wildlife watching areas.

Ideally, we would like to see a federal tax on wildlife watching equipment similar to the Pittman-Robertson excise tax on hunting paraphernalia that currently funds the state wildlife killing agencies.

There are ways of funding wildlife watching so that  the agencies would become a self-funded agency.  The activity would, of course, also economically benefit the regions where wildlife watching takes place. In 2011  Wildlife Watchers spent over $9 billion for food and lodging in the country – of that over $306 million was spent in New York State.

Rather than propping up the existing wildlife agencies with their entrenched hunting/fishing/trapping culture, we should let them disappear as their operations become unsustainable.   At the same time, we need to identify existing alternative agencies or encourage new agencies based on wildlife watching to blossom by becoming self-funded.

Peter Muller is a Vice President of C.A.S.H. and President of the League of Humane Voters


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Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561