Opinion: Hunting is important for wildlife, Michigan's future
For many in Michigan, the start of firearm deer season is an unofficial holiday. For some, it is an actual holiday where schools are closed and the restaurants, motels, and gas stations around the state do robust business supporting more than 600,000 individuals who will be chasing white-tailed deer.
Hunters have been the driving force behind the recovery of innumerable iconic wildlife species in Michigan and across North America. What is less understood is that the dollars generated by the hunting community also provide the only consistent and dedicated source of revenue to support nongame wildlife species like the Kirtland’s warbler, piping plover and monarch butterflies.
What would happen if we lost all of our hunters? How would we manage wildlife habitats that support both game and nongame species? What would happen to the family businesses across Michigan that provide important services that support these activities?
To better understand the role that hunters play in managing our natural resources, we need to look deeply at a few key aspects of their relationship not only to wild places but to the segment of the economy which is dependent upon them.
Economic Value: Hunters pay for conservation
It is commonly misunderstood that your tax dollars provide the bulk of the funding that supports wildlife management in Michigan. In fact, hunter-generated revenues provide the vast majority of funding to support all kinds of conservation work.
Hunters contribute directly through excise taxes that are levied on the sale of sporting arms and ammunition. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, also known as the Pittman-Robertson (PR) act, established a federal source of hunter-generated funds that are granted back to each state for the sole purpose of supporting wildlife and wildlife-related recreation.
In fiscal year 2017, PR dollars accounted for about $20 million in wildlife-related work in Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division 2017 Annual Report.
Hunting licenses purchased in Michigan are constitutionally restricted to be spent only on activities that benefit wildlife, wildlife habitat and wildlife management. For fiscal year 2017, license purchases contributed about $13 million for wildlife management in Michigan. The non-hunter-generated, nongame related revenues totaled about $285,000 in fiscal year 2017. Hunter-generated monies are paying for ALL wildlife species, not just those we harvest.
More importantly, though, this money is in addition to the billions of dollars that hunters indirectly contribute to Michigan’s economy. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimates that the economic contributions of hunters in Michigan totals about $2.5 billion annually. A recent study commissioned by Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) indicates that the USFWS is severely undercounting the indirect contributions of Michigan’s hunters. On December 10th, MUCC will be releasing the results of that study in Lansing.
Food Value: Eating well and giving back
An unequivocal outcome of hunting is the procurement of lean, locally-sourced, sustainable protein. Across the United States, this results in hundreds of millions of pounds of high-quality protein that is annually meeting some of the food needs of Americans. As cultural interest in eating local, sustainable food has increased, so too has interest in hunting among those who seek a more direct and active role in sourcing where their food comes from.
Beyond sharing wild game around the family table, in 2017 alone, the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger program facilitated the donation of more than 29,000 pounds of venison which accounted for about 145,000 hot and high-in-protein meals for those less fortunate.
For many Michigan residents, food security remains a major concern. A 2014 Michigan Hunger Study found that 69 percent of those utilizing food assistance programs have to choose between food and utilities. Furthermore, 63 percent indicated that they have to choose between food and medicine. Hunters are proud to do our small part in contributing to a healthier and happier society.
Cultural Value: It starts as a seed
Hunting is culturally significant to Michigan as well. While it drives large segments of our economy and finances the majority of our conservation work, these two elements combine to make hunting an important part of Michigan’s cultural experience.
At a more individual scale, many connections to nature that remain fixed first began as part of a hunting or fishing experience. Far too many Michigan residents live in physical proximity to our natural resources but, sadly, never have the opportunity to experience them.
For many of us, sitting in a deer blind with our parents or grandparents is one of the first memories we have of nature. With those memories, we have created a lifelong love of Michigan’s natural resources and the experiences we have with them.
Now, more than ever, it is becoming increasingly clear that sportsmen and women have a decision to make: pass on the torch of conservation to the next generation or let the flame burn out slowly. The implications of these decisions will weigh heavily on our game and nongame species for generations to come.
If hunting goes away entirely, we lose the best, most durable way to fund conservation in the future. We would lose a vital part of our economy. We would miss the opportunity to anonymously support and comfort our neighbors who are struggling to decide between buying food or medicine. And, we relegate a significant portion of who we are culturally to a historical footnote in the development of our state.
Those of us who aspire to the worthy title of hunter-conservationist are bound by the weight of that cultural inheritance to ensure that our non-hunting neighbors and fellow citizens have a deep and respectful understanding of the values that our hunting community bring to all of us. While our pursuit of game is often an endeavor we undertake singly, the benefits of all of that individual effort are shared collectively.
Dan Eichinger is executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs.
Nick Green is public information officer for Michigan United Conservation Clubs.
Since 1937, Michigan United Conservation Clubs has been uniting citizens to conserve, protect and defend Michigan’s natural resources and outdoor heritage. To learn more or to leave your mark on Michigan’s conservation history, join us at mucc.org/about/.