Thanks and Good LuckNeil Thagard

 

When my wife Catherine and I look for places to hunt, “off the beaten path” is near the top of our criteria list.  Public land we can backpack intoand not see another human soul for days is amagnet to us.  However, recently we found ourselves hunting an area of National Forest which contained both the mule deer we were seeking and a popular hiking trail to a spectacularly scenic waterfall. We decided that we’d willingly share the canyon withothers for the opportunity atone of the big bucks we knew were there.

Shortly after sunrise we were sitting at a great glassing spotnear the trail when we heard human voices approaching.  As the hikers came into view we saw a large group wearing the trendy clothing of the young and environmentally conscious.  Catherine and I were in full camo, weapons in hand and I saw her inwardly brace for the anticipated disapproving stares and “Bambi-killer” accusations.

We made a point to be friendly, commenting on the beautiful day.  After some small talk on the trail conditions, I heard the inevitable question “Are you guys hunting”?  “Yes,” I answered as Catherine held her breath, “we are looking for deer”. “Well”, said the apparent leader of the group, “thanks and good luck”.  Then they headed off down the trail.

That was it – thanks and good luck. Could the complex interconnectedness between hunters and anglers, and the communities in which they pursue their game be summed up in that simple sentence?

Although the hikers enjoyed that spectacular canyon and the wildlife it contained for free, we spent many hundreds of dollars on the tags and licenses we required for the opportunity to hunt there. This money goes directly to the state’s game and fish agency and pays for a wide spectrum of conservation programs.  Sportsmen’s dollars are the most significant contributor to state fish and wildlife agencies, and support everything from habitat improvements to fish stocking, scholastic educational programs to disease research.  Through their financial contributions, hunters and anglers even support non-game and endangered species management efforts.

However, when we look at the big picture of hunting’s impact from an economic perspective, it’s not just about what hunters spend on permits. It’s also about the local motel that relies on pheasant hunters to extend their season.  It’s about the mom-and-pop coffee shop that sees a significant proportion of their business in the early morning hours as deer hunters head out. It’s about the jeweler who specializes in elk ivory, the taxidermist putting his kids through college and the second generation fly shop owner carrying on the family business. It’s about the rancher who receives compensation when he loses livestock to predators, and the countless other ways in which sportsmen’s dollars directly and indirectly bolster local economies.

In my home state of Wyoming, the hunting and fishing industry contributes 1.1 billion dollars annually.  That’s second only to oil and gas, and no small number when you consider there are only about a half a million people in the entire state. The budget of the Wyoming of Game and Fish Department represents one of the highest returns on investment for the state and has enabled a diversified economy that is able to withstand the booms and busts associated with natural resource extraction.

Most people do not realize that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has not had a hunting license and tag fee increase since 2008, even though the cumulative inflation rate since then has been 8.5%. They have also been required to spend more of their existing budget on legislatively mandated costs, such as health care for employees. The 2013 Legislature rejected the agency’s request for a modest fee increase, forcing a multi-million dollar budget cut. This has hit Wyoming families and the small businesses that depend on our outdoor industry the hardest.  It’s not hard to see how these severe funding cuts limit the state’s ability to actively manage fish and wildlife, which in turn reduces the number of visitors to the Cowboy State whether they are hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, nature photographers or simply conservationists.

The good news is that we have the opportunity to restore what has been lost, and with it the jobs and economic strength Wyoming derives from our outdoor industry.  Two bills have been introduced by the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee of the Legislature to provide a modest fee increase that keeps pace with inflation, and to share some of the financial burden of the Game and Fish Department with the non-consumptive user.

Both bills will need to pass the budget session in February, and I encourage every Wyomingite to contact their legislator and express your support for the bills. But it’s not only locals who hunt and fish in Wyoming – sportsmen come here from across America to experience our world-class hunting and angling opportunities. Every sportsman who has, or dreams of chasing Wyoming elk, antelope, bighorn sheep or cutthroat trout has a stake in how they are managed – contact the Wyoming state legislature today and let them know you are a sportsman who supports the bills.

Perhaps there was an element of wishful thinking in my interpretation, but I’d like to think the young hiker we met that day on the trail understood the essential role that hunting plays in conservation and local economies, and that he was directing his thanks at us for that.