Wildlife watching, together with hunting and fishing, are powerful economic forces in America.
Consider your guilt assuaged. Mine is, too.
Despite what your mother said – not to do something just because others are – it’s OK, at least in this case. Everyone’s in the same boat, or at least the same kinds of boats, or hiking shoes, or hunting coats, or fishing waders.
And it’s healthy.
Outdoorsmen and women the nation over spend big money on their passions, and that supports economies as well as fish and wildlife management.
Consider the numbers.
There are a lot of people spending time outdoors. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, roughly 103 million people ages 16 and older participated in “wildlife-associated recreation” in 2016. That’s 20 percent more than did it in 2011.
Wildlife-associated recreation, buy the way, is defined as wildlife watching, at home or on trips centered around opportunities to see birds and mammals. Some participants feed wildlife, others hike or paddle to view it.
The number of people fishing in 2016, meanwhile, grew by 8 percent from 2011, to 35.8 million.
Hunter numbers declined in that five-year span, dropping 16 percent to 11.5 million. That’s still a large group of people, though.
And all of those people – no matter what it is that draws them outdoors — spend. Their total outlay of cash in 2016 was a monstrous $156.9 billion.
That was an increase from $154.8 million spent in 2011, the last time a survey like this was done.
“These expenditures represent almost 1 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, creating and supporting thousands of jobs and communities across the nation,” said Gregory Sheehan, principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Gadgets rule when it comes to parting with cash. Most of what was spent in 2016 — $97.4 billion – went to buy equipment.
Another $42.5 billion was for trip-related expenditures, and $17.3 billion went other ways, such as for licenses and land ownership or leasing.
Wildlife watchers – not surprising considering they’re the largest group — led the way, spending $75.9 billion, an increase of 23 percent over 2011. Anglers spent $46.1 billion, an increase of 3 percent over 2011.
Hunters, by comparison, are the smallest group. But they really open their wallets and purses.
Hunters spent $26.2 billion in 2016, a decrease of 27 percent over 2011. But they spent the most person, on average, roughly $2,300 each.
And some folks probably spent even more, given that they take part in more than one activity.
“There was a considerable overlap in activities among anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers,” the Service said.
Sixty-seven percent of hunters also fished, while 21 percent of anglers hunted. Fifty-six percent of anglers and 55 percent of hunters watched wildlife, while 25 percent of wildlife watchers hunted or fished.
All of that activity, from all of those people, did good things for America and its people, Sheehan said
“Revenues from the sale of licenses and tags, as well as excise taxes paid by hunters, anglers and shooters, continue to support vital wildlife and habitat conservation efforts in every state,” Sheehan said.
“And on a personal level, a growing body of scientific research supports what so many of us have experienced ourselves, that we’re all healthier, happier and better off in myriad ways when we spend time in nature.”
Remember that the next time you’re tempted to make a purchase.
You’re not buying a new fishing rod or backpack or tent for yourself. Or at least not yourself alone.
It’s good for the country, after all.
That’s the story I’m going with, at least.
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