By PAIGE LaBARGE
Capital News Service
Bucks Disappear Up North in more ways than one
LANSING—Deer hunting is a $1 billion-a-year industry in the state but last fall the bucks fell short.
That’s because both the number of hunting tourists and the amount of money they spent were down, experts said.
According to Russ Mason, chief of the Wildlife Division in the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE), license sales dropped 4 percent in 2010 from previous years.
Mason also said a broader distribution of deer throughout the state has hurt rural areas’ hunting tourism.
“Rural Michigan depends on hunting for its main economic wealth, and less animals in the Upper Peninsula means less tourism for us,” Mason said.
Dave Lorenz, manager of public relations for Travel Michigan, the state’s official tourism promotion agency, also cited changes in the deer population.
“Previously deer could mostly be found in the Upper Peninsula, but now someone can find five of them in their back yard,” Lorenz said. “This is causing people to travel less to hunt.”
Under current economic conditions, some Michigan residents are working longer and hunting less. Thus traveling to hunt isn’t a priority for many families, Lorenz said.
As a result, many people are choosing to hunt locally.
Mason said DNRE is trying to focus on younger hunters who don’t have 9-to-5 jobs.
“We are beginning to fix how we recruit ages 20-to-40 now, which could possibly raise the amount of tourists during hunting season,” Mason said.
Together Travel Michigan and DNRE are trying to boost hunting tourism through advertising in the Pure Michigan campaign.
Through the campaign, organizations are targeting hunters by discounting license fees and also trying to attract more out-of-staters.
Mason said the ads are concentrating on bordering states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Steve Yencich, president of the Michigan Hotel, Motel and Resort Association, also noted the decline in hunting tourism last fall and said that it can be improved by targeting non-hunters through other ways.
In addition to fewer hunting tourists, jobs in the industry have also dropped. Yencich said that tourism employment levels fell to 142,000 this hunting season compared to 200,000 in previous years.
He said college courses and the greater involvement by younger hunters can help reverse the trend.
“This is a huge business, and college students should be part of this industry, which will raise the number of jobs again and also bring more attention about hunting tourism to a younger generation,” Yencich said.
He said that idea is being put into action at Michigan State University through the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies, where students can focus on tourism and the economy.
Students can learn how to revitalize damaged economies through educational means and in turn improve the state’s hunting tourism, according to Yencich.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By PAIGE LaBARGE