Hunting and fishing are not merely pastimes enjoyed by Colorado sportsmen and sportswomen. Abundant wildlife is as much a part of Colorado’s identity as our majestic landscapes. In a state that relies on tourism, wildlife-related recreation is a vital part of our economy: It generates $3 billion in economic activity in Colorado every year.
The economic contribution of hunting, fishing and wildlife watching is direct and positive for local individuals and communities. Wildlife creates jobs and brings money into the economy through retail, lodging and dining purchases.
Let’s look at the immediate impacts of spending on hunting and fishing activities in Colorado. According to a 2008 study commissioned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, hunters and anglers spend an estimated $1 billion on travel expenses and sporting equipment annually. The agency spends another $60 million to directly support wildlife-related activities each year. Besides the initial flush of cash, because that money is spent in local communities, it continues to ripple through the state and provides significant secondary activity of nearly $770 million.
When combined, primary and secondary spending brings in more than $1.8 billion annually. Expenditures by hunters and anglers also support an estimated 21,000 full-time jobs.
In addition, the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses provides most of the support for Colorado Parks and Wildlife management programs that sustain all wildlife species. Consequently, hunters and anglers provide direct support to wildlife watching which, according to the 2008 study, generates $1.2 billion of economic activity in Colorado.
The economic contribution of hunting and fishing for all 17 counties in the southwest region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife totals $270 million annually and supports nearly 3,000 jobs. Rural counties feel the positive effects especially when considering that hunting and fishing typically peak during the “shoulders” of the summer tourist season.
The county-by-county totals for the Southwest Region illustrate just how important hunting and fishing are: Alamosa sees $20.3 million in economic activity; Archuleta, $19.1 million; Conejos, $4.2 million; Costilla, $1.2 million; Delta, $27.8 million; Dolores, $2.5 million; Gunnison, $53.1 million; Hinsdale, $3.0 million; La Plata, $43.3 million; Mineral, $4.4 million; Montrose, $29.1 million; Montezuma, $20.7 million; Rio Grande, $13.3 million; Saguache, $3.3 million; San Juan, $3.9 million; San Miguel, $17.3 million; Ouray, $3.4 million.
Now, let’s go beyond those figures to see how hunting and fishing pay for most of the wildlife management in Colorado. Notably, your tax dollars do not fund the wildlife management efforts of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Instead, license fees paid by hunters and anglers form a critical and essential core of support for wildlife conservation that extends to all 50 states.
Additionally, every time hunters buy a firearm and every time anglers buy fishing equipment — including boats and motors — they pay federal excise taxes that support wildlife conservation.
In 1937, far-sighted hunters and anglers, who understood that millions of people making small contributions combine significantly for the greater good, worked with Congress to pass the far-reaching Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, it tacks an 11 percent excise tax onto hunting equipment. The money is sent back to the states in matching grants for wildlife conservation.
The Pittman-Robertson Act (PR) also designated that the income states receive from hunting and fishing license revenue must be spent only on wildlife management efforts.
Nationally, $700 million is generated by Pittman-Robertson annually. The money has helped protect more than 40 million acres of land to benefit wildlife. In fiscal year 2010-11, Colorado received $11.8 million in Pittman-Robertson funds.
The Dingell-Johnson Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, the fishing equivalent of Pittman-Robertson, was passed by Congress in 1950. In the last fiscal year, $8.7 million in Dingell-Johnson funds came back to Colorado.
Waterfowl hunters also purchase federal and state duck stamps. That money is used solely for wetland protection. In Colorado, wetlands comprise less than two percent of our landscape, but benefit over 75 percent of our wildlife species. Wetland improvements also reduce sedimentation in rivers and streams, help to recharge groundwater, aid in controlling of floods, stabilize stream banks and improve overall water quality.
Since 2006, Colorado’s own Habitat Stamp has raised nearly $17 million for conserving important wildlife habitat. In partnership with other government agencies, private landowners and conservation groups, Habitat Stamp program dollars have protected approximately 119,000 acres of land valued at $111 million.
To go further, dozens of private organizations with roots in hunting and angling, such as Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Mule Deer Foundation and many others raise millions of dollars for conservation efforts every year.
The conservation easements and habitat projects paid for with hunting- and fishing-related revenues are “value added,” providing open space, educational opportunities, other wildlife-related tourism from bird watching, and other forms of wildlife viewing.
Colorado just wouldn’t be the same place without our wildlife. So the next time you see a hunter or an angler, remember that their contributions benefit all of us.
Be sure to sight-in your rifle before hunting season to increase your chance of success of harvesting a deer or an elk. Go to your local rifle range.
Joe Lewandowski is the public information specialist for the Southwest region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.