The sportsman’s dollar

Poor environmental practices, such as excessive logging, have decimated salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest. A healthy environment will lure hunting and fishing enthusiasts, who spend billions of dollars annually and create jobs.
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: $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, over-fishing, 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 $1.4 billion in retail spending nationwide in 1991. This spending generated an overall economic impact of almost $4 billion, including nearly $1 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[R], 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!

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 coming 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 big 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 the anyway and would otherwise be wasted. Unfortunately, over time snagging grew into a grotesque October free-for-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!”


THE NEW ECONOMICS OF HUNTING AND FISHING MEAN that wildlife ,can be assigned dollar as well as traditional abstract values. When federal grazing land was allocated, wildlife often lost out to the hard cash value of beef cattle. Now that’s changing.

A recent U. S. Forest Service study in Idaho has shown that under certain conditions range forage allocated to elk and deer can yield equal or greater value than the same forage set aside for cattle. Researchers surveyed hunter spending patterns as well as forage use by elk and deer to determine unit values for wildlife grazing land Market values of beef were computed in similar fashion. While results varied according to specific habitat types and time of year, in some cases the dollar value of elk was more than double that of cattle using the same range.

This does not mean that all cattle are about to be kicked off federal grazing land in favor of elk and deer. But it does illustrate one of many new economic tools helping to give wildlife as well as sportsmen an increasingly fair shake in public policy.

BIRDS in the bush

“farming maintains my hunting operation,” observes Tom Webb, “and hunting has saved my farm.”

In 1980 Tom started a game preserve on his farm on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. In 1987 he built a Sporting Clays range there. Both endeavors were inspired by the decade’s two great declines: farm income and wild ducks.

Tom began by putting out pen-raised quail, chuckar, and pheasants. He soon became concerned, however, that so many of his corporate clients knew so little about hunting.

“They shot my dogs, guides, and other guests,” Tom remembers. “It was a nightmare.”

Tom also worried that surviving pen-raised quail would contaminate the genetic vigor of his wild birds. So he ended the put-and-take part of his operation and began advertising for people willing to pay more for wild bird hunts.

“The key to quality hunting,” he observes, “is rigorously managed habitat. Once you realize how much harm the offset mower has done to wildlife, you can

immediately start restoring coveys by letting your ditch banks grow, particularly if you plant them with good seed-producing grasses.”

Today, Tom manages 2,750 acres of his own and neighbors properties along 21/2 miles of the Chesapeake Bay. In the process, he’s converted local depression and pessimism into new jobs and opportunities for dozens of people. Employing three full-time assistants, he worries only about where he can get more reliable help beyond the twenty-five people already working part-time as guides, dog handlers, and target range operators. Still, he figures such concerns are better than the ones he used to have when he was struggling to survive by farming alone.


OUTDOOR RECREATION, INCLUDING HUNTING AND FISHING, can be a powerful economic development too/for rural areas, according to John Bergstrom, a University of Georgia economist who has consulted widely for the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies on this topic. As one example, Bergstrom points to a recent tradeoff between power generation and recreation opportunities on several western North Carolina reservoirs run by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

The TVA has historically drawn down Lake Fontana and several other area reservoirs for power generation starting in early summer, leaving marinas and boat-ramps high and dry and the lakes generally inaccessible during late summer and early fall. Bergstrom and other analysts found that delaying drawdowns could increase recreational activity to the point where the dollars spent locally by fishermen and boaters would far exceed the value of hydropower that would be lost because of the delayed generation schedule.

After long negotiations with the state, TVA finally agreed to delay drawdowns, thereby giving boaters and fishermen a full lake into the fall. This program started in 1993, and Bergstrom told me recently it’s still too soon to measure any success. But according to area newspaper accounts, the plan may eventually produce as many as 2, 000 new full-time and part-time jobs in a region where unemployment levels range up to 25 percent and where family incomes are far below both national and state averages.


There was a time when Dennis Bergstad of Aurora, Colorado, didn’t dwell much on the economic impacts of hunting and fishing Big-game hunting was his passion, not his profession, and the only recreational dollars he was concerned with were his own.

But that perspective began to change in 1974 when a lodge owner in the Flat Tops Mountains plateau north of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, asked him to guide some elk hunters. He agreed, and outfitting became a seasonal part-time livelihood until 1989 when he retired from his job as an electric engineer at Hughes Aircraft and went into the business full time

Today, Bergstad, fifty-eight, a rawboned, 6-foot-6 man of Norwegian descent, ramrods a $150,000-a-year gross revenue business with twenty-three seasonal employees under the name Colorado High Guide Service. And that’s not all. Not content to roll with the tide of state wildlife affairs, he became active in the 230-member Colorado Outfitters Association and now serves as the group’s unpaid volunteer lobbyist before the Colorado Legislature and the Colorado Wildlife Commission.

In those forums he lobbies for proper certification of guides and outfitters, sensible management of elk and deer, preservation of habitat for big-game animals, and a hunting permit system that considers the needs of the outfitting business.

“There was a study done in 1989 that showed the annual economic impact of the outfitting business to Colorado was $171 million,” said Bergstad. “We charge from $850 to $2,400 for an elk hunt, ranging from a drop camp service to a fully guided hunt,” he said. “Each hunter probably spends that much again on travel expenses, gear, game processing, taxidermists, and whatever.”

It all hinges not only on the quality of the service provided, but on the quality and quantity of the animals being sought. That, in turn, depends on their habitat and the sensibleness of the regulations that are applied to hunting seasons, Bergstad said.

Bergstad cautions that the continued health of the state’s estimated 200,000-animal elk herd depends heavily on availability of lower-elevation winter range. “Some of our ranchers are being overrun with wintering elk that cause damage to hay, crops, and other property,” he said. “I think the state Division of Wildlife needs to listen very carefully to their concerns and be less stingy in regard to payments for damage claims. Otherwise, these folks could close their lands to hunting or fence the elk out.”


Dave Preble improved his life by taking a swing at his boss. The man was head of Rhode Island’s Department of Natural Resources and tried to suppress Dave’s negative study of development impact on a coastal marsh. Dave was fired, of course, but the development was denied, and, in time, the DNR chief was fired, too. Meanwhile, Dave got to follow his bliss by teaching and fishing.

As things turned out, Dave grosses more as a charter skipper from June through September than he does as a science teacher the rest of the year. He charges $750 a day, has no mate or deckhand, and grosses up to $55,000 per season. Unfortunately, like many other coastal businesses that depend on recreational angling, Dave is caught in a squeeze between rising costs and long-term declines in species such as bluefin tuna on which his business depends.

People unfamiliar with offshore angling are amazed that anyone would shell out $750 a day (plus tip) for Dave’s services aboard a relatively small, 31-foot charter boat. But whether or not Dave goes fishing, he has to pay for dockage, liability insurance, an escrow account for engine replacement, and other fixed expenses that come to roughly $240 a day. When Dave adds in fuel, oil, and the wear-and-tear of an offshore outing, his profit margin is not so wonderful.

When billfish and tuna were abundant, Dave was booked every day of the summer. But abundance is the key, and those species are declining And as Dave points out, there are more recreational anglers pursuing bluefin tuna along the New England coast than there are commercial fishermen after the same species along the whole Atlantic seaboard. Yet whenever the federal government sets annual bluefin tuna quotas, it gives the lion’s share of the catch to commercial fishermen.

BACK to nature

What I saw wasn’t pretty. A backhoe crawled across a green meadow on giant tracks, lowered itself into a shallow spring creek, and lifted massive scoops of silt from the bed. The machine’s operator used the silt to build a bar at the inside of a natural meander. It was a muddy operation, but the end result was a narrower, deeper stream, which is what it had been before cattle tram pled its banks.

In its new channel the stream ran faster, cutting into an eroded bank at the outside bend of the meander. The backhoe skimmed the top of the bank and stacked its sod back in the meadow. The bucket then tapered the bank into a natural, stable profile and “armored” its base against erosion with a layer of small rocks from the stream’s bed. The last step was to pick up the sod and cover the reshaped bank with it.

The work took four days for almost a mile of stream. The reconstructed bars looked raw till new grass sprouted, but the trout moved back quickly, exploiting their improved habitat.

Three years later, visiting anglers do not notice the traces of stream rehabilitation. The backhoe, intrusive as it seemed, came close to restoring nature’s shapes without the structures humans often need when they repair streams with hand tools. There are no dams, no cribs, no boulders, no contrived pools. There is just a spring creek winding through a grassy meadow, mayflies hatching, trout rising.

Recently I talked to Dale Miller, one of the founders of Inter-Fluve–the firm that did the work I watched. If the creek had run through a forest instead of a meadow, he said, logs might have been used in the rehabilitation. Or, in a mountain stream fed by snow-melt, boulders might have been appropriate. The idea was to work with each stream’s geomorphic nature and native vegetation.

Miller, thirty-eight, is a hydrologist by training. He has worked on projects from New Jersey to Washington State, and Argentina to Scotland. When I caught up to him briefly, I noticed that most of the other chairs in his headquarters were empty. Inter-Fluve’s ten full-time employees spend most of their time on the job, directing backhoe-operators provided by subcontractors. With some 300 projects completed over ten years and with annual revenues that have approached $2 million, Inter-Fluve is an oldtimer in this infant–and long overdue–industry.

the RUGER RIPPLE effect

When you buy a piece of hunting or fishing gear–a fishing rod, say, or a deer rifle–you set in motion an economic effect that, joined with millions of other like transactions, eventually turns into billions of dollars in the national economy. The easiest way to understand how this works is to follow a sportsman’s dollar as it ripples through its economic cycle.

Eddie Debowski of Houston, Texas (whom we in Part 1) has an air conditioning business that leaves him time for fall hunting. Since Eddie sometimes goes elk hunting, it’s logical that he would spend a few hundred dollars at Carter’s in Houston for a Ruger rifle. Bill Carter’s business (which we profiled in Part 2) makes an immediate profit on the sale, which helps to pay for things like electricity and insurance, plus wages for ninety-five employees in four stores, and there’s probably a little left over for the Carter family.

The rest of Eddie’s money heads northeast; first to Ruger’s corporate headquarters in Southport, Connecticut, where some cash spins off as corporate overhead, salaries, and profit. Most of the balance, however, heads for the Newport, New Hampshire, plant where Eddie’s rifle was manufactured.

Here we visited with a pair of production workers, both of whom worked on Eddie’s rifle and whose wages Eddie helped to pay. Mike Traegde, forty-three, has worked here for twenty-three years and currently assembles rifles, carefully fitting actions into stocks. He drives a 1989 GMC pickup, buys his fishing tackle at the local Kmart, and is married with three children, for whom he buys clothing at Hubert’s in nearby Claremont, New Hampshire.

In another part of the plant, Earl Raymond, Jr., forty, test fires rifles like Eddie’s before shipment, checking for function and accuracy. Earl also has three kids (all girls), buys groceries at the local Shop & Save, and drives a Ford F-150 pickup. He’s worked at Ruger for the past sixteen years.

Mike, Earl, and 1,100 other Ruger employees at this facility all depend on hunters like Eddie. So do the employees at Carters in Houston. So, to a much lesser extent, do several electric companies, insurance agencies, doctors, offices, clothing and grocery stores, gas stations, banks, movie theaters or video rental places, and just about any other common American business we might name. That’s how a multiplier effect works. Nationally, the numbers are huge. And, broken down into their components, they boggle the mind!

developments DEALS

When E.A (Mac) McCune, thirty-nine, was a youngster at Texas A&M University, he wanted to be a doctor, a “lake doctor,” to be exact, specializing in curing the ills of private ponds. So he became a fishery biologist and founded his lake Management Services firm fifteen years ago, expecting to be dealing mostly with the slow-talking owners of farm and ranch ponds.

Instead, he now finds himself making sales pitches complete with slide presentations to fast-paced developers of office building complexes, housing subdivisions, and country clubs. His company in Richmond, Texas, near Houston, has eight full-time employees and nearly 400 clients in Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico.

“Developers once used lakes mostly for scenery and flood control,” he says. “Now they’re realized that good fishing greatly enhances the value of business properly and subdivisions. Some companies in office building complexes use fishing privileges to reward workers and entertain customers. We manage lakes inside Houston city limits that have bass fishing better than most wilderness lakes.

“This is something administrators of public parks and even school grounds should be paying attention to,” he said.


AMERICA’S SPORTSMEN PUMP MILLIONS OF DOLLARS EVERY year through taxes and license fees into fish and wildlife management programs nationwide. Other outdoor user groups–from hikers and campers to birdwatchers–also benefit from those mi/lions but don’t pay a dime. But now that may be changing.

Nationwide sales of hunting and fishing licenses and permits for 1992 totalled $879. 7 million, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Added to that annual total are excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear, which amounted to more than $356. 7 million for 1993 and which USFWS distributes among the 50 states for fish and wildlife management. That’s well over $1.2 billion invested in America’s environment every year by sportsmen, which pays for everything from state fish-stocking programs to the public purchase of land for wildlife.

As escalating costs and new programs require increasing amounts of money, other outdoor user groups will be asked to take on part of the load that sportsmen have carried for years. User fees for National Forests are part of the newly proposed federal budget, for example, and this may have a surprising effect on the management of these lands. Recent upheavals in the US. Forest Service are shifting its focus from bargain-basement timber sales to a broader view of ecosystem management. Even moderate user fees for hikers and campers will make those and other recreational uses of the forests directly competitive with the cash derived from timber sales, which in turn will likely mean enhanced recreational opportunities on federal lands, most especially in the Rockies and West.

In the Northeast, meanwhile, a recent conference of public and private forest managers has recommended user-based excise taxes on hiking and camping gear as a means of raising money to preserve and manage the vast forest lands extending across northern New England. Like sportsmen, other users would thus be contributing their share to keeping open space that’s now in critical danger of development.

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