by Phil Phillips - Tuesday, October 11, 2022
A new study by University of Nevada, Reno researchers confirmed what the state’s hunters already knew: Hunting generates millions in economic impact for rural economies. The study by the state’s flagship public university and primary land-grant research institution documents that big-game and upland hunting generates millions of dollars for Nevada’s economy, especially in rural communities where wildlife is plentiful such as in Elko, White Pine and Lincoln counties.
Led by researchers in the university’s Department of Economics, Extension and Experiment Station, the study revealed that hunters spent nearly $380 million in 2020 on hunting statewide on both travel and hunting expenses such as meals and lodging as well as on higher-end items such as off-highway vehicles, campers and, of course, firearms and ammunition. It noted that 2020 spending was about the same as in 2019—despite the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic as states across America reported influxes of new hunters as men and women headed outdoors to enjoy the oldest form of social distancing.
University researchers worked alongside the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), the agency that manages the state’s wildlife conservation efforts and sustainable hunting opportunities, to figure out just how much hunters spend on hunting licenses and tags each year. In addition to using NDOW’s “Big Game Hunt Stats” tracking hunting statistics and harvest information from the past hunting season, researchers and NDOW distributed an expenditure survey to 2,000 hunters to assess their spending and issued two companion reports: Hunting-Related Economic Activity in Nevada and Hunter Expenditure in Nevada. The reports were produced in partnership with the Extension’s Nevada Economic Assessment Project (NEAP), which its website explains “aims to provide county, state and federal agencies and their partners with quantitative and qualitative baseline data and analyses to better understand trends in each county’s demographic, social, economic, fiscal and environmental characteristics.”
Because the research project was based on data from the 2019 and 2020 hunting seasons, it factored in spending during the pandemic, which enabled researchers to look at hunter spending during varying economic conditions.
“More people want to hunt big game animals here in Nevada than there are available big game hunting tags,” said Michael Taylor, associate professor of economics in the university’s College of Business and a co-author of the reports. “That’s what makes hunting kind of a recession-proof industry. There are so many people who want to go that demand stays strong even during an economic downturn.” Taylor also noted how hunters are committed to having a connection with the landscape and wildlife. As was the case even before the pandemic, which drew more than 8 million first-time gun owners and countless new hunters afield, if particular hunting opportunities weren’t available in Nevada, hunters found hunting opportunities in other states.
Taylor spent two years collaborating on the research project and co-authoring the two reports with three of his colleagues: Alec Bowman, economics research scientist and lead author of both reports; Tom Harris, economics professor, Extension specialist and Experiment Station researcher; and Buddy Borden, community and economic development associate professor and Extension specialist. Extension and the Experiment Station are part of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources. The team found that while most of the state’s hunters live in Washoe and Clark counties, hunting’s economic impact is the greatest in Elko, White Pine and Lincoln counties, which is where most tags are issued, and that economic impact varies based on the type of tag. On average, they explained, an increase of 10 hunting tags for antlered mule deer increases total economic output by nearly $4,500 while an increase of 10 tags for antlered elk raises it by $19,000.
That said, this does not mean NDOW will increase the number of tags to boost the economy. Annual recommendations for the number of tags to be made available each year from NDOW, or from the wildlife agency in any state, are based on survey data and population management to make sure a sustainable, harvestable surplus remains at the season’s end.
According to reports from Nevada media, Bobby Jones, NDOW’s outdoor connection coordinator, explained he hopes that the two companion reports “will help small businesses, county commissioners and other decision-makers understand how conserving Nevada’s natural resources and providing sustainable opportunities for Nevadans to hunt, fish, hike and camp supports the state’s economy.” This fact is just one more tool in hunters’ toolboxes to promote cultural acceptance of hunting into the future as wildlife populations’ survival in today’s world rests so heavily on hunter funding.
“Our goal is to simply share this information broadly so Nevadans can make more informed decisions that best serve their communities when it comes to conservation, outdoor recreation and hunting,” Jones said. He said that another reason the university’s research project was so critical is because there wasn’t much information available on the economic impacts of hunting in Nevada.
“Generally, people are aware that hunting exists and support legal, regulated hunting, but are not hunters themselves, and even hunters might not sit down and pencil out exactly what they spend on hunting each year,” Jones said. “Before this report, there was not enough information available to show exactly how hunting in Nevada impacts our economy.” So, while hunting isn’t suddenly a transformational driver of economic development like agriculture or mining, he said it certainly creates a substantial number of jobs in the state’s rural communities.
As for the next step, Taylor and his colleagues are following up on the first survey to look at the economic benefits for hunters. According to Jones, NDOW may conduct follow-up surveys with the university.
“In comparison to this report, most national survey data severely underestimate hunter spending in Nevada,” Jones said. “Knowing this, we’re curious to know if that is the same for other outdoor pursuits, or not. If hunting generates nearly $400 million per year, are fishing or wildlife viewing bigger economic drivers than we realize? Possibly, but we can’t know without moving forward with a similar effort.”
For now, one fact remains: Nevada residents—and dwellers of every other state—owe a debt of gratitude to American hunters for paying the bulk of wildlife conservation. This is thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 (P-R Act), which directs taxes on firearms and ammunition sales back to the individual states to fund wildlife management and habitat restoration projects. According to the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the P-R Act has resulted in more than $15 billion in contributions to date, including $1.5 billion just for 2022. But as we acknowledge the P-R Act’s 85th anniversary this year, let’s remember to tell nonhunters about all the other contributions we make. That hunting or fishing license or special stamp or permit you just bought is all revenue that goes toward supporting America’s state fish and wildlife agencies.
About the Author
Outdoor writer, TV host and farm/ranch real estate associate broker Phil Phillips has hunted five continents, taking 60 species worldwide. Prior to hosting hunting programs, he started Colorado's first Ranching for Wildlife Program for antelope. Working alongside professional land managers, he went on to guide clients to 500-plus big-game animals and was named Safari Club International’s (SCI) North American Bowhunting Outfitter of the Year. A Life member of hunter-backed organizations including the NRA, Mule Deer Foundation, Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club Foundation and Safari Club International, he can be reached at [email protected].
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