Going Green

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hunting Season Thoughts

Fall is the time of year when many of us think of hunting. It starts off with dove season then quickly moves to quail, deer and pheasant. You can’t leave out turkey, ducks, geese, wild pigs, elk, and on and on – especially for the true enthusiasts.

Hunting is big dollars to the economy. It is also the source of a huge portion of the dollars spent for conservation efforts throughout the country each year. According to National Geographic (Nov. 2007), 75% of the revenue to state wildlife agencies comes through hunting and fishing license fees ($1.22 billion in the most recently reported figures) and excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment and motorboat fuels ($616 million).

At the federal level, $24 million was spent on Duck stamps which are required of waterfowl hunters age 16 and older. Another $280 million was contributed during 2006, to organizations devoted to the conservation of game species such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever, and others.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey of 2001 indicated that the economic impact of waterfowl hunting in the U.S. was in excess of $2.3 billion in that year alone. Texas accounted for approximately $206 million of that impact.

When we look at the opportunities to farmers and ranchers in the Panhandle region for capitalizing on such expenditures, we need to look beyond our Conservation Reserve Program acreage to our playa lakes. Playas offer a unique opportunity to provide oases of habitat for wildlife. Because of the seasonal nature of their water levels, many farmers have seen them as additional, although unreliable, crop acres. Perhaps it would be better to view them as wildlife revenue opportunities.

Restoration of playa lake environments to their natural flora will increase opportunities for hunting. During the seasonal waterfowl migrations, playas often offer the only available water source for “safe harbor” to ducks and geese passing through the area. Given the enthusiastic devotion of most waterfowl hunters, lease revenue for waterfowl hunting could generate significant income.

In addition to waterfowl, the water contained in playas is a source of sustenance for other types of wildlife. Dove, pheasant and quail are attracted to the water from nearby grain fields. With the planting of cover and food species of plants, the playa environment offers a reservoir of habitat for many game species. Lease revenue could be expanded to include many different species so that revenue could be generated from dove season which begins in September through the end of quail season which often extends into February.

There is also a growing population of non-hunting wildlife enthusiasts who are willing to pay for viewing experiences. During the non-hunting seasons or even during the fall if access is closely controlled, there is potential revenue from providing viewing opportunities to interested individuals. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 1991, approximately 30% of expenditures on wildlife were on viewing and photography. In that year, the estimated amount spent on viewing and photography was $18.1 billion. The number has increased dramatically since that time. Based on that percentage, the figure for 2006 would be around $36 billion nationally.

When the land owner considers the programs available to help restore wetlands/playa habitat, the incentive for looking at wildlife as a crop increases. The Playa Lakes Joint Venture organization (www.pljv.org) is a great resource for information regarding benefits of playa restoration as well as programs available for financial incentives.

Hunting is not only a great source of revenue to farmers and ranchers, it is a great way for families to participate in healthy outdoor activities. There is a special bond created from shared hunting experiences and it is not just for men and boys anymore. One of the fastest growing segments of the hunting population is women and girls.

Playa restoration is something that every landowner should consider; not only for the economic value, but for the opportunity to strengthen families and to improve our environment as well.

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