The Business of Fish and Wildlife Management

The Business of Fish and Wildlife Management

People in the conservation community often talk of partnerships and the relationships between the outdoor recreation industry and fish and wildlife management agencies. What is meant when this is said? Are the state fish and wildlife agencies in a business partnership with the outdoor recreation industries? Or, is this a relationship where the two entities are working together towards a common goal of increased outdoor recreation – more specifically increased participation in hunting, recreational shooting, fishing, and boating? The answer may not be as clear as one might think. Let’s take a moment to follow the money.

People fishing from a boat

The American System of Conservation Funding was set up by congressional action in 1937 when the Pittman-Robertson Act (Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act) was passed to support wildlife conservation. The system was expanded in 1952 with passage of the Dingell-Johnson or Federal Aid in  Sportfish Restoration Act to support fisheries conservation. This congressional action established a strong linkage between a state wildlife agency’s budget and the success of the various businesses associated with hunting, recreational shooting, fishing, and boating.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the sale of taxable firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing equipment, boats, and motorboat fuels generated over $1.4 billion in excise tax funding that was contributed to the sportfish and wildlife restoration accounts. This fiscal year (FY2017), nearly $1.13 billion of this found its way to state fish and wildlife agency budgets to support important resource management needs. This FY2017 apportionment number includes roughly $780 million in the wildlife account and $349.4 million in the fish account. (Note – What happened to the roughly $270.6 million difference is a topic for a future article.)

This $1.13 billion dropped directly into the income side of state fish and wildlife agency balance sheets. These funds, along with agency receipts from license sales represent the American System of Conservation Funding. While some states may get some direct appropriations from state tax dollars, these excise tax dollars and license dollars are what is available for the agency to manage fish and wildlife populations.

Imagine the outdoor recreation industry as a single company. The seats in the boardroom would be occupied by the CEOs of all the companies who manufacture firearms, ammunition, bows and related archery equipment, arrows, fishing equipment, and boats. Also seated at the table would be the CEOs of the many other related outdoor recreation companies who manufacture equipment and clothing used by hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Seats at this board table would also be occupied by the many outdoor-related membership organizations whose members purchase the equipment manufactured. Finally, the directors of each of the state fish and wildlife agencies would also occupy seats around the boardroom table – after all, they bear the bulk of the responsibility of providing the opportunity to use the products purchased. This equates to supplying healthy fish and wildlife resources, readily available access to those resources, and opportunities for recreational shooting and boating.

The magnitude of the industry represented in this imaginary boardroom is significant. If you just consider the hunting, fishing, boating, and recreational shooting companies, the annual gross production would easily be valued at over $10 billion. When you include the many other companies represented that manufacture products that are used by hunters, anglers, recreational shooters, boaters, and outdoor enthusiasts, it could easily be argued that this imaginary boardroom has a gross income that measures well over $20 billion annually.

The common bond between the many companies within the outdoor recreation industry and state fish and wildlife agencies is clear. This is a profit sharing relationship. The companies responsible for production and sale of products used by hunters, recreational shooters, anglers, boaters, and outdoor enthusiasts share their profits with the state fish and wildlife agencies in the form of the 10 or 11 percent excise tax on the product sales price. The state fish and wildlife agencies then use these shared profits to ensure that there are healthy fish and wildlife populations on the landscape and that there is ample public access to these resources.

So, back to the original question – is this a business partnership or just a partnership of shared goals and interest? Following the money, it is clear that this is a business partnership. In fact, the state fish and wildlife agencies are responsible for propping up a $20 billion dollar industry. If they are successful, the industry grows and the agency budgets increase. If they are not, the industry shrinks and the agency budgets decrease.

Photo Credit
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Flickr
July 17, 2017