Declining hunting and fishing licenses could hurt Michigan economy, reports say

LANSING – Fewer Michiganders hunt and fish each year as baby boomers age, a trend that could strain the state’s economy and its efforts to protect wildlife.

That’s according to a group of lawmakers, conservationists and business representatives who have urged the legislature to attract a younger and more diverse generation to the outside.

Lawmakers also need to boost funding to clean up toxic chemical contamination and tackle chronic wasting disease in deer or risk further declines in hunting and fishing, according to Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

The eminent conservation group published a study on Monday estimating the economic impact of hunting and fishing at $ 11.2 billion and 171,000 jobs per year, which would place it in the state’s top 10 industries for job creation.

The study, conducted by researchers at Michigan State University with funding from the CS Mott Foundation, found that spending on hunting and fishing resulted in more jobs in Michigan than in any other state. of the Great Lakes.

Heavily populated southeast Michigan has benefited the most from hunting and fishing, with about $ 3.7 billion in economic activity, according to the report.

The report “Really helps bolster our need to maintain Michigan’s hunting and fishing economy,” said R-North branch representative Gary Howell, who last year served as chair of the natural resources committee of the House and worked on the expansion youth hunt and pheasant hunt in the state.

Howell joined Rep. Leslie Love, D-Detroit, in calling for increased attention to the dwindling number of people outdoors in the state.

Deer hunting licenses with firearms sold to the Michiganders have fallen more than 20% in two decades, falling to 621,000 in 2017, from a peak of 785,000 in 1998, according to a recent Michigan Technological University demographic analysis. .

Fewer Michigan residents also fish legally: 880,000 in 2014, up from a peak of 965,000 in 2009, according to a separate analysis from Michigan Tech.

(However, Department of Natural Resources records show less clear trend – and more fluctuation – in total fishing license purchases, including sales to residents of other states. Michigan is second behind Florida. to attract fishermen out of state, said Dennis Eade, executive director of the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association and a member of the Tourism Industry Coalition of Michigan.)

Other states are seeing similar trends as older baby boomers slow down and interest from younger generations wanes. This does not bode well not only for the outdoors and the tourist economy, proponents say, but also for wildlife conservation.

“Hunters and fishermen are basically paying the bill for conservation in Michigan and other states,” Eade said. “That’s because hunting and fishing license fees and supplements are used to pay for the majority of wildlife management and habitat restoration in Michigan and across the country,” roughly $ 62 million. dollars a year in Michigan.

“A continued decline in this base has huge implications for how we manage the conservation of our forests and experience the wildlife of our lakes, rivers and streams.”

Love is co-chair of Michigan Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, and she hopes her leadership – as a woman and self-proclaimed “city dweller” from an angling family – will help identify ways to diversify participation in widely-identified activities. . with white men.

She noted, for example, that her district and surrounding southeast Michigan have many Spanish-speaking residents, and that Spanish-speaking messages in some of those communities could boost interest in hunting and fishing. It’s something grassroots groups in Nebraska have tried, she said.

Michigan Tech’s demographic analysis of fishing license purchases offers hope for greater expansion in one demographic: younger women. Although men still make up 79 percent of Michigan’s anglers, female participation is steadily increasing, this report notes.

Calls to encourage more Michiganders to hunt and fish come as the state faces a pair of major threats to wildlife. Including chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease that attacks the brains of deer, elk and moose.

Michigan has tested tens of thousands of deer for the disease since 2015, when it was first detected in the state, and the Department of Natural Resources has reported it in more than five dozen animals .

Meanwhile, PFAS – “forever chemicals” linked to cancers and other diseases and increasingly found in Michigan waters and fish, and in at least one deer.

Last October, representatives of the State warned the inhabitants of Oscoda, which houses the PFAS-contaminated Wurtsmith Air Force Base, not to eat deer in the area after high levels of the chemical were detected in a deer.

Amy Trotter, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said it was too early to say whether the chronic wasting disease or PFAS contamination was directly affecting the fishing and hunting numbers, but they could do so at the future.

Either way, Trotter said, his group and allies want the state to devote more resources to each of these issues – to ensure fish and deer remain healthy to eat.

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