Fewer fishing, hunting licenses mean less conservation money

By HALEY GABLE
Capital News Service

LANSING –  Revenue from hunting and fishing license sales decreased from $63.2 million in 2016 to $62.1 million in 2017, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Meanwhile, the number of licensed hunters and fishers has been declining over the last 20 years, DNR said.

The funds from licenses go directly to fisheries and wildlife conservation programs and make up the most of budget for those programs. When license sales decline, it means less money to support wildlife programs.

Nine percent of the DNR’s total budget comes from general tax dollars, and only 4.5 percent of that goes towards conservation, according to the department.  

The DNR increased licenses fees in 2014, which helped generate funds. However, DNR public information officer Ed Golder said there is no current plan to ask the Legislature for another increase.

Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) Executive Director Dan Eichinger said hunting and fishing licenses are the main source of funding for state conservation efforts. Getting people to buy licenses is essential to conservation and the benefits it brings to individuals, their communities and the state as whole.

Conservation plays a substantial role in the Michigan economy. According to the DNR, hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing contribute $3 billion annually to the state’s economy. Recreation related to hunting and fishing supports 33,000 jobs.

Eichinger said that the best way for citizens to support conservation is to purchase a hunting or fishing license because these funds must be allocated for wildlife conservation.

To generate money and increase license sales, Eichinger said there must be an effort to either grow the user base or be more efficient with funds.

MUCC has several programs to educate the public on how conservation benefits themselves, wildlife habitats and the economy.

For example, Gourmet Gone Wild is a program designed to expand the hunting user base. According to its website, the program is “designed to introduce young professionals to hunting and fishing in an innovative way: tasteful and healthy cuisine.”

Participants have the opportunity to learn about the health benefits of eating wild game and how hunting promotes conservation and sustainability.

Another program is the R3 Program, which stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. According to MUCC public information officer Nick Green, it aims to inspire parents to take their children fishing and hunting.

“R3 is about getting parents on board in order to support the next generation,” said Green.  

The program provides tools for parents, children and others to learn how to fish and hunt. The hope is that people will enjoy these activities, continue to participate and, in turn, will renew their hunting and fishing licenses, he said.

The MUCC also holds an annual summer camp for children ages 9-16.

MUCC education coordinator Shaun McKeon said the camp focuses on teaching skills such as hunting and fishing, and educates campers on conservation science.  

Local communities can also participate in and benefit from statewide conservation efforts.

For example, in 2017, the Cheboygan Conservation District  participated in the Hunting Access Program, which provides the opportunity for private landowners to benefit financially from allowing hunters access to their land.

According to the district, six landowners enrolled last year.