In a time of budget cuts and declining energy revenue, big game outfitters want legislators to know how much big game hunters in Wyoming contribute to the state’s economy.
A recently released report based on 2015 data and examining the value of hunting the animals classified as big game in the state shows an economic contribution of nearly $303 million.
The figure was compiled and report prepared by the Southwick Associates, an organization that researches and studies the economic impact of outdoor activities nationwide.
“Big Money” is the title of the report and its conclusion is that big-game hunting equals big business in Wyoming.
“With incredible opportunities to hunt some of the more incredible big-game species in the world, including elk, antelope, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer and mountain goats, it is quickly obvious why Wyoming is one of the most desirable hunting destinations in all of North America,” the report reads. “It is also obvious why hunting is so critical to the state’s economy.”
Although several other groups such as the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission and the Wyoming Game Wardens Association helped fund the study, the main backer was the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association.
“It is aimed at the legislators,” said Cody’s Lee Livington, president of the outfitters group.
The report is in part a response to lawmakers who have introduced bills that would divert license revenue to other government agencies or programs from Game and Fish.
The money hunters spend on license fees is a very large component that keeps that management agency ticking.
“Obviously, we feel it is important to us they understand the economic impact,” Livingston said of those making decisions in Cheyenne.
The $303 million total includes $224 million spent on retail sales by resident and non-resident hunters for guided and non-guided hunts.
The ripple effect from the hunts leads to $85.5 million paid in salaries and wages and in local economies, accounting for 3,100 jobs.
In a different kind of evaluation Southwick concluded that in 2015 alone, residents and non-residents spent $138.7 million to buy real estate in Wyoming for hunting purposes.
Those who visit the state, or selected hunting areas, spend money on hotels and meals, gas to reach their destinations, meat processing, vehicle rentals, new equipment and supplies for the hunt, license fees, and guide fees.
In 2015, non-residents paid out 85 percent of the guide and outfitter fees, or $45.4 million.
“It’s an industry,” Livingston said. “This isn’t just an outfitter’s study. It is part of tourism. Tourism is getting more important than ever to the economy and so is the outdoors.”
Less than six months ago, the University of Wyoming, released a study at the behest of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, which examined use of public and private lands and which documented local hunting and fishing participation.
That research showed the value of the outdoors industry to Park County, which benefited to the tune of $23.4 million annually. About 20,000 fishing licenses were sold within the county in 2015. Also, 62,000 hunting days were spent in Park County that year.
The breakdown showed $12.7 million was spent in-county on hunting and $10.7 million related to fishing.
Overall, including all types of outdoor activities, the statewide value of hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and wildlife watching and the like was estimated at $4.5 billion for Wyoming.
According to Renny McKay, a Game and Fish communications director in Cheyenne, the big-game hunting report “shows generally its importance to the economy in the big picture.”
While hunting and fishing licenses, resident and non-resident fund more than 80 percent of the Game and Fish department, he said, since 2007 legislators have earmarked millions of dollars extra for Game and Fish wildlife management.
Those types of study programs went beyond the basic daily work of being in the field, but in the current budget it is expected that money will no longer go to the agency.
In essence, McKay said, the legislators will take back what they previously granted.
The biggest big-game hunting spenders are non-residents who may live in cities and have long dreamed of participating in hunts in a comparative outdoor paradise like Wyoming.
One way to raise more money would be to allow more non-residents to draw hunting tags.
However, that would not be sound scientific practice because deer and antelope populations have declined due to recent years of drought conditions.
“We are limited,” McKay said. “There are fewer licenses available at the same time non-resident applications to hunt in Wyoming continue to go up.”
Alan Osterland, Cody regional Game and Fish wildlife supervisor, said money gleaned from The Federal Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, has been a big help in recent years.
The tax on gun and ammunition sales “has put a chunk of change in our coffers,” Osterland said.
However, Wyoming officials predict a decline of in-state gun sales with the change a Barrack Obama administration to a Donald Trump administration. That would produce a concurrent decline in tax money shared between the federal government and the states.
Osterland echoes Livingston and the big-game hunting report as it relates to Wyoming tourism.
“Oh, the outdoors is a huge part of it,” he said.
Livingston said Wyoming has it “pretty good” right now and would hate to see legislators tamper with rules that financially support Game and Fish.
Changes, Livingston said, could result in “significant, multi-million-dollar losses to Game and Fish. A lot of people don’t realize how much money licenses contribute, the amount of money piped in.”