USFWS: State hunter number continue slide
Lansing — Sportsmen and women across the country celebrated recently when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released preliminary results from a survey indicating that participation in hunting, fishing, and wildlife-related recreation was on the rise. The statistics bucked a long-term trend of decline in hunter and angler numbers nationwide.
The USFWS conducts its National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation every five years. Preliminary results of the survey conducted in 2011 showed a 9-percent increase in the number of hunters across the nation and an 11-percent increase in the number of anglers.
However, Michigan doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the national trend. Depending on who you believe, hunter numbers in Michigan are down either drastically or slightly.
According to the USFWS report, there were 529,000 hunters in Michigan in 2011, a decline of about 30 percent from its 2006 report. But according to the Michigan DNR, 761,269 individuals in Michigan bought at least one hunting license in 2011.
“We have a little concern with their numbers,” Steve Beyer, the DNR’s Research and Management Section supervisor, told Michigan Outdoor News. “For starters, the national survey is preliminary and those numbers may change. That’s an extrapolation from a survey that asked a very small number of people if they hunted. They estimated 529,000 people hunted, but we sold 761,269 licenses to individuals, so that report kind of concerns us.”
While the USFWS numbers are estimates, DNR numbers are actual sales recorded at license dealers across the state. The DNR total is not the total number of licenses sold, but rather the total number of individuals who purchased a license. When compared to the state census, 7.64-percent of Michigan residents purchased a hunting license in 2011.
“The sad thing is that we are still trending downward,” Beyer said. “That’s 17.3-percent fewer hunters than in 2001 and 35-percent fewer than in 1992 when 1,171,721 individuals bought at least one hunting license.
“Since 1992, there has been a pretty steady decline in hunting licenses sold,” he said. “In fact, there is only one other year when hunter numbers were lower than 2011, and that was in 1973.”
The concern of state game managers is that the decline in license sales is affecting the DNR’s ability to manage the states natural resources. About 75 percent of the DNR Wildlife Division’s budget (the budget runs between $27 million and $30 million annually, according to Beyer) comes from license sales and federal funding from excise taxes on hunting equipment.
Those excise taxes come from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act. P-R funding is generated through excise taxes on hunting equipment, which sportsmen asked for as a way to help fund conservation.
P-R monies are redistributed to states based on the size of the state and the number of licensed hunters per state.
“The maximum a state can get is 5 percent of the national total of P-R funds, but the only state at 5 percent is Alaska,” Beyer said. “In 2001, we got 3.65 percent of the total pot, but because of the decline in hunters, in 2012 we’ll get 3.31 percent, or $12.3 million. If we were still getting 3.65 percent, our cut would be $13.5 million. That’s significant.
“If we can reverse the trend of losing hunters, we can earn more money for the state.”
To date, Michigan has received a total of about $252 million in P-R funding.
There are restrictions on how P-R funds may be spent, and it must be matched by $1 from state coffers for every $3 of P-R funding spent.
“Hunters should be proud that we have been taking care of the bulk of game management,” Beyer said. “But when we lose hunters, it makes it tough to continue to maintain that level of management.
It’s really sad.
“This (P-R) is the life-blood of conservation in North America. It’s been great for the last 75 years, but to be honest, a lot of us in the conservation community are concerned about what will happen in the next 75 years.”