By KYLE CAMPBELL
Capital News Service
LANSING — Despite drought conditions, low water levels and a rash of disease in the white-tailed deer population, fishing and hunting remained a boon to the Michigan economy in 2012.
With more than 1.19 million fishing licenses and more than 2.39 million hunting licenses purchased from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) between last March 1 and Jan. 17, 2013, the state surpassed its total revenue from the previous year by more than $375,000.
The license sale year runs until the end of February, but Denise Gruben, manager of licensing and reservations for the DNR, said most sales occur before the end of the calendar year.
Despite the increase, Sharon Schafer, the head of the DNR’s Budget and Support Services Division, said the state still lags about $400,000 behind projections for the fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.
Schafer said she is not surprised revenue is lower because of a bout of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a lethal disease spread by insect bites through deer herds in at least 30 counties.
“There were large die-offs in Ionia and Clinton counties and it affected a lot of areas throughout the state,” she said. “The herd will recover. Those areas were overpopulated.”
So far, license revenues are more than $51 million, on par with the past several years. About $3.5 million goes for general state purposes, Schafer said.
More than 90 percent of the funds, however, remains with DNR, Schafer said, with the majority going toward the legal department, fisheries and wildlife, and the marketing and outreach division, which handles much of the sales.
“That’s about 20-25 percent of our budget, so that’s a big part,” Schafer said.
The economic impact of hunting and fishing industries is not limited to license fees.
In 2011, Michigan saw an estimated $2.36 billion in hunting-related retail sales and $2.46 billion in fishing-related sales, according to the National Shooting Sport Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association.
In late September, Pure Michigan began a three-month, $125,000 digital advertisement campaign to entice outdoor sport enthusiasts from nearby states such as Ohio and Indiana. It promotes Michigan hunting and fishing through online videos and ads on hunting and fishing websites.
The impact of these outdoor sports also affects other tourism-related industries, benefiting northern parts of the state.
For example, with 17 hotels in Cadillac and with close to two dozen outlying hotels and motels in the surrounding area, the city benefits greatly from the tourism generated by hunting and fishing, Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau Executive Director Joy VanDrie said.
Eight campgrounds, two lakes and the adjacent Huron-Manistee National Forest add to the draw, VanDrie said, furthering the prominence of hunting and fishing in the area.
“It’s quite important,” she said of outdoor sports. “It supports not only the hotels — the tax base — but the restaurants and the bait-and-tackle shops. We have a lot of guides in the area. Everything from bear tracking to ice fishing, we have seasons year round.”
One beneficiary of 2012’s hunting and fishing seasons was Steve Knaisel, owner of Pilgrim’s Village Resort in Cadillac, which consists of 16 cottages, seven motel rooms and a bait-and-tackle shop on the eastern shore of Lake Mitchell.
Between a spike in fishing during the summer, a relatively slow deer hunting season in the fall and an early ice fishing season this winter, Knaisel described his business in 2012 as “an absolute zoo.
“There’s no way to measure how important they are to us,” he said of hunting and fishing.
Knaisel said the economic impact was felt beyond the confines of his property and throughout the community.
“Somebody comes to my resort to stay, they’re more than likely going to go out to a restaurant, they’re going to spend money on gas, they might go shopping downtown — maybe they forgot to bring something,” he said.
“My cottages have cooking so they might go to a grocery store to pick up food. It is not only my business that’s benefitting, it’s everyone around me,” he said
Beyond a little heat exhaustion for some patrons, Knaisel said the summer drought had little adverse impact on his business. The shallower water did, however, mean more seaweed, causing a lower interest in watersports.
Mark Tonello, a fisheries biologist for the DNR in Cadillac, said an increase in weed growth is common in areas with low water levels.
He said by the end of the summer, lakes Mitchell and Cadillac were “as low as you’ll ever see them.”
Many inland lakes, particularly along the state’s west coast, still are experiencing below-average water levels because of below-average levels in Lake Michigan, Tonello explained.
“We’re still in the midst of a drought. Lake Michigan levels are at or nearing the all-time low record set in 1965,” he said.
According to the Army Corp of Engineers, the average water level of lakes Michigan and Huron was 576.04 feet in mid-January, which sits about 2 feet below the long-term average and beneath the 1965 low mark of 576.1 feet.
By KYLE CAMPBELL