Hunting and fishing boost Michigan’s economy

Fishing attracts foreign tourists to Michigan. Photo: Lindsey Jene Scalera

Despite drought conditions, low water levels and an outbreak of disease in the white-tailed deer population, fishing and hunting remained a boon to Michigan’s economy in 2012.

With over 1.19 million fishing licenses and over 2.39 million hunting licenses purchased from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) between March 1 and January 17, 2013, the state exceeded more than $375,000 his total income for the previous year.

The license sales year extends through the end of February, but Denise Gruben, DNR licensing and reservations manager, said most sales occur before the end of the calendar year.

Despite the increase, Sharon Schafer, chief of DNR’s budget and support services division, said the state was still about $400,000 behind projections for the fiscal year, which began on October 1 last.

Schafer said she was not surprised incomes were lower due to an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a deadly disease spread by insect bites in deer herds in at least 30 counties.

“There were major deaths in Ionia and Clinton counties and it affected many parts of the state,” she said. “The herd will straighten up. These areas were overcrowded.

Licensing revenue so far is over $51 million, the same as in recent years. About $3.5 million is for general state purposes, Schafer said.

More than 90% of the funds, however, remain with the DNR, Schafer said, with the majority going to the Legal Department, Fish and Wildlife, and the Marketing and Outreach Division, which handles much of the sales.

“That’s about 20-25% of our budget, so that’s a big chunk,” Schafer said.

The economic impact of the hunting and fishing industries is not limited to license fees.

In 2011, Michigan had approximately $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 launched a three-month, $125,000 digital advertising campaign to attract outdoor sports enthusiasts from neighboring states such as Ohio and Indiana. He promotes hunting and fishing in Michigan through videos and online advertisements on hunting and fishing websites.

The impact of these outdoor sports also affects other tourism-related industries, benefiting the upstate regions.

For example, with 17 hotels in Cadillac and nearly two dozen outlying hotels and motels in the surrounding area, the city benefits greatly from tourism generated by hunting and fishing, said Joy VanDrie, general manager of the Visitors Bureau of the Cadillac area.

Eight campgrounds, two lakes and the adjacent Huron-Manistee National Forest add to the draw, VanDrie said, reinforcing the importance of hunting and fishing in the area.

“It’s very important,” she says of outdoor sports. “It not only supports hotels – the tax base – but restaurants and bait and tackle shops. We have many guides in the area. Everything from bear tracking to ice fishing, we have seasons all year round.

One of the beneficiaries of the 2012 hunting and fishing seasons was Steve Knaisel, owner of Pilgrim’s Village Resort in Cadillac,

A new Michigan DNR app will make it easier for hunters to find this guy.  Photo: recubeJim (Flickr)

Hunting-related retail sales topped $2 billion in 2012. Photo: recubeJim (Flickr)

which consists of 16 cabins, seven motel rooms and a bait and tackle store on the east shore of Lake Mitchell.

Between peak 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 boundaries of his property and throughout the community.

“Someone comes to my resort to stay, they’re more than likely going to go to a restaurant, they’re going to spend money on gas, they might be shopping downtown – maybe they’ve forgot to bring something,” he said.

“My cabins have a kitchen so they can go to the grocery store to buy food. It’s not just my business that benefits, it’s everyone around me,” he said.

Beyond a bit of heat exhaustion for some customers, Knaisel said the summer drought had little negative impact on his business. The shallower water however meant more seaweed, leading to less interest in water sports.

Mark Tonello, fisheries biologist for DNR at Cadillac, said increased weed growth is common in low water areas.

He said that at the end of the summer, Mitchell and Cadillac lakes were “as low as you will ever see them”.

Many inland lakes, especially along the west coast of the state, are still experiencing below average water levels due to lower than average levels in Lake Michigan, Tonello said.

“We are still in the midst of a drought. Lake Michigan levels are at or approaching the all-time high set in 1965,” he said.

According to the Army Corp of Engineers, the average water level on Lakes Michigan and Huron was 576.04 feet in mid-January, which is about 2 feet below the long-term average and below the 1965 trough of 576.1 feet.