NDSU survey of hunters, anglers show dollars spent on outdoor activities rise sharply in state, driven mostly by fishermen
Fishing and hunting remain economic powerhouses in North Dakota, a $2.1 billion industry that continues to grow despite sizable drops in hunters pursuing deer, pheasants and ducks. The ballooning of dollars being spent on outdoors activities can be attributed to anglers, who are greater in number and spend more money than ever before.
How sportsmen (particularly anglers) choose to use this information, if at all, will be interesting to watch in the coming years. Will they and the businesses benefiting from all that money changing hands — around Devils Lake, for example — remind their local and state politicians of their economic clout? Or will they choose to remain silent for fear of upsetting the wrong people?
The figures come from a recently released North Dakota State University study of the economic impact of hunting and fishing, the first comprehensive look at the topic since 2011-12. Commissioned by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the study was conducted by NDSU’s Agribusiness and Applied Economics department using a mail survey of 24,451 residents and 7,914 nonresidents who purchased hunting and fishing licenses in 2017-18.
The numbers are remarkable. Direct spending on hunting and fishing increased $267.3 million (38 percent) from 2011-12 to 2017-2018. Taking into account both direct and indirect spending on hunting and fishing, identified as gross business volume in the report, spending increased by $595.9 million (39 percent) over the period.
“It was a little surprising in that the total was higher than expected. I fully thought that the economic impact would rise — just not to that extent,” Game and Fish director Terry Steinwand said. “What it really shows is the value of hunting and fishing to the North Dakota economy.”
Hunting and fishing activities generate $48.2 million in general state tax collections and support 3,263 full-time equivalent jobs throughout the state, the report said.
Those numbers can’t compete with agriculture or oil, the industries with the biggest clout over politicians in Bismarck. But they are not to be ignored, considering the attention tourism (often listed as one of the state’s top five industries) gets.
Fishing is the driver in both the total outdoors revenue and its growth. It “remains the dominant source of expenditures among angling and hunting in North Dakota,” the report said.
Hunting license sales and spending were down steeply, owing to the drop in deer, waterfowl and upland game (a.k.a. pheasant) hunters across North Dakota. There were 49,000 fewer resident and nonresident firearm deer hunters in the state in 2017-18 compared to 2011-12, for example. So hunter expenditures adjusted for inflation decreased by $52.7 million (22 percent).
A lesson here, too, sportsmen: “Hunting conditions in the state continue to reflect the loss of wildlife habitat, primarily due to reduction in Conservation Reserve Program acreage, as well as higher commodity prices in previous years that facilitated the shift of some agricultural lands back into tilled crop production,” the report states.
Political statement from this writer: Perhaps the future of hunting depends more on habitat acquisition and preservation, and access to said habitat, than it does on a fixation with guns.
Fishing, meanwhile, boomed. That’s due to increased quality habitat (there’s that word again). High water has increased the state’s fishing lakes to about 450 and the spectacular walleye fishing available at flooded Devils Lake has attracted anglers from North Dakota and other states. Game and Fish said resident fishing license sales increased from 125,286 in 2011-12 to 151,913 in 2017-18. Nonresident license sales jumped from 28,197 to 62,958.
“There’s also the access component,” Steinwand said. “We have pretty good access to the resource in North Dakota, whether it’s aquatic or terrestrial. Other parts of the country aren’t nearly as welcoming to hunters and anglers.”
Fishing expenditures were estimated at $787.8 million. Adjusted for inflation, angler spending increased $320 million (68 percent) over 2011-12.
A good chunk of the increased spending by resident fishermen can be attributed to their purchase of larger, expensive boats and multi-use, wheeled fish houses (think Ice Castle). Motorized, tracked ice-fishing machines such as the SnoBear have also increased in popularity.
“To put this in perspective,” the report reads, “boat/motor/trailer purchases by resident anglers accounted for $350 million of the $847 million in all hunting and angling expenditures in the state. In addition to a substantial increase in boat/motor/trailer purchases, durable goods/fixed expenses for resident ice anglers more than doubled since 2011-12.”
Boat manufacturers and dealers, it seems, were among the biggest recipients of the economic boom sparked by hunting and fishing in North Dakota. Hotels, bars, restaurants, convenience stores and many others were beneficiaries, too. The study details the economic importance of hunting and fishing to rural North Dakota, too. What’s to be done with all this information?