By Drew Winter, Humane Research Council (HRC)
In 2006, about 5% of the American adult population hunted. This number is a 4% decline from 2001 and a consequent 3% reduction in hunting-related expenditures. The trend is part of a two-decades decline in hunting numbers, but this is not the only important statistic. Although 5% of the American population hunted, there is a strong, interlinked network of economic support for hunting that includes the firearms and sporting goods industry, conservationists, and government entities like the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW). Furthermore, the financial dependence and institutional centrality of hunting for the DNR and DFW mean they are not responsive to democratic demand but rather are merely the state arm of the pro-hunting lobby. A sober account of the financial assets of the hunting industry is necessary if we are to effectively understand the power it may exert over policy and public opinion.
The Hunting Economy
In 2009, companies that produce, distribute, or sell hunting firearms and supplies made roughly $28 billion, up from just over $19 billion the previous year. (This number does not include indirect spending on transportation, lodging, and permits.)
One 2002 study found that hunting and fishing supported around 15,000 jobs and contributed $1.5 billion to the Colorado economy, with at least $332 million coming from trip and equipment expenditures from out-of-state hunters. Not only do out-of-state hunters bring in “new” money to Colorado’s economy, they also spend more per day than do residents.
The Michigan DNR estimates that hunters contribute $1.3 billion to the state's economy annually, and $153 million in tax revenue.
Numbers like these possess figurative currency for the hunting industry, and if we wish to effectively combat hunting as an activity, we must recognize that our battle is not simply with a cultural tradition but with a billion-dollar industry. It is not merely ideologically or hobby-driven resistance that can maintain hunting activity, but also economic and financially-driven resistance.
An important facet to hunting policy is the fact that government agencies such as the DNR—while charged with regulating hunting activity—are dependent on it for funds in the form of hunting permits and firearms sales. The New Hampshire Fish & Game Department, for example, receives 70 percent of its conservation funding from hunting/fishing sales. Additional revenue comes from taxes on equipment and firearm purchases allocated specifically to wildlife management and hunter safety programs. This economic dependence (combined with a long history of defending hunting for its purported ecological benefits) means that government institutions have a vested interest in continued regulated hunting.
Conservation and Hunting
While the economic ties between government "conservation" institutions and hunters is a serious issue, it must be remembered that the management of wildlife for the exploitation of humans is the expressed purpose of these organizations. The mission of the Arizona Game and Fish Department is to "conserve, enhance, and restore Arizona’s diverse wildlife resources and habitats through aggressive protection and management programs, and to provide wildlife resources and safe watercraft and off-highway vehicle recreation for the enjoyment, appreciation, and use by present and future generations" (emphasis added).
The problem is not merely that institutions charged with maintaining the "wilderness" of the community are financially dependent on those who desire to kill and maim that land's animal inhabitants; the problem is that the very existence of these institutions is created in order to facilitate the killing and maiming of the land's animal inhabitants. Thus, it is crucial that we understand the DNR, DFW, and other such groups, not as ostensibly independent agencies with financial incentives to support hunting, but rather as the government arm of the hunting movement. As a recent study showed, the general public's choices for which animals should be added to the Endangered Species list were consistently more threatened than those selected by the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. This suggests that the DFW either possesses less technical expertise on wildlife than the general public, or simply does not prioritize species protection.
This is not to suggest that the money flowing to these organizations is unimportant--to the contrary, it makes it all the more crucial to oppose their pro-hunting agenda. But it is worth noting that removing from these institutions the responsibility of helping people hunt would be a fundamental shift in their purpose--a shift that would likely be staunchly opposed by its staff.
Non-Hunting Wildlife Economies
However, there is another side to this story.
The aforementioned Colorado study found that wildlife watching produced $940 million and supported 13,000 jobs, and, like hunters, visitors who came to the state for wildlife watching also spent more per day than their residential counterparts. The Michigan DNR also cited $2.7 billion--more than double that of hunting--in "wildlife viewing" activity. Wildlife viewing trumps violence on the national level as well, taking in $45.7 billion in 2006, more than fishing ($42.2 billion) and almost double hunting ($22.9 billion). This is evidence that violence against animals is not the only viable way for a state’s ecology to grow the economy, and suggests that increased emphasis on wildlife viewing rather than wildlife hunting could increase revenue.
National Revenue from Assorted Outdoor Activities (in billions) Source:
2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation
Profit can also come from increased savings, and attempting to define "wildlife preservation" as preservation for the sake of animals can sometimes make economic sense. For example, allocating funds for wildlife corridors that connect habitats previously divided by human development (like roads) could reduce the up to 1.5 million wildlife-vehicle collisions that occur annually in the United States, killing about 200 people with an average vehicle repair cost of $2,000.
What can we draw from this information to help us better mobilize and affect hunting policy and popular opinion? Government organizations concerned with "conservation" or "wildlife management" must always be understood to be at best highly biased against hunting restrictions, and--more likely--as merely another branch of the hunting lobby. As such, any discussion of hunting policy should have an economic component. The ability to sell a policy as financially beneficial (or at least neutral) could be crucial in blunting the argument that hunting helps the economy and increases tax revenue.
Drew Winter is an award-winning organizer and writer. Named one of the top 20 animal advocates under 30 by VegNews, Drew led Michigan State University’s animal rights group in successful campaigns to kick animal circuses off campus and bring more vegan options to the dining halls. He has also given talks on animal rights philosophy. After graduating, Drew handed out over ten thousand pamphlets at colleges across the Midwest with Vegan Outreach, and later worked as a grassroots organizer with peta2. Drew hopes to pursue a PhD in Anthropology or Sociology to better understand social movements and increase activists' effectiveness.