Conservation, the Economy, and You

By hunting waterfowl and supporting Ducks Unlimited, you provide a host of benefits to wildlife and people

By Scott C. Yaich, Ph.D.

Hunters enjoy being out in nature and are also conservationists who care deeply about wildlife. From our experiences afield, we all see how habitat conservation benefits wildlife, hunters, and other outdoor recreationists. We also witness how modern, science-driven management helps maintain healthy populations of waterfowl and other wildlife.

But have you ever considered how much you personally contribute to the conservation cause, or how much your hunting expenditures benefit the economy? Let's take a closer look at the remarkable impact that a typical waterfowler has on conservation and the economy simply by doing two things that come naturally to many readers of this magazine: going duck hunting and supporting Ducks Unlimited.

I Think I'll Go Duck Hunting Again This Year

Once a waterfowler begins acting on that decision, the wheels of conservation and the economy start to turn. First, you'll buy a state hunting license. The fees that sportsmen and women pay for hunting and fishing licenses exceed $750 million each year and are the primary source of revenue for most state wildlife conservation agencies. This revenue is used to acquire land for public hunting and other forms of outdoor recreation and to manage habitat for wildlife.

License fees also pay for other agency expenses, including the construction and maintenance of roads and facilities as well as equipment purchases, law enforcement, and administrative support-all of which contribute to local economies and create jobs.

Next you'll purchase a state waterfowl stamp. These funds help support the general conservation activities mentioned above, but are often earmarked for work that contributes more directly to waterfowl conservation, such as management of wetlands on public hunting areas. Many states also allocate some of this revenue to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' State Contributions Program to fund habitat projects on Canada's most important waterfowl breeding grounds. Through this program your state waterfowl stamp funds are matched by DU. Those funds are then matched again through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which means that every dollar you contribute through your state waterfowl stamp purchase generates four dollars for conservation in Canada.

Before heading to the duck blind, you'll also buy a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, more commonly called a federal duck stamp. The recently signed Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014, an important conservation policy success, will raise the price of the stamp from $15 to $25 in 2015, the first such increase since 1991. Federal duck stamp funds are restricted to supporting waterfowl habitat conservation, and the program's efficiency is an incredible 98 percent. Since 1934, this program has generated almost $1 billion to purchase or conserve more than 6 million acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas.

Conservation, hunting, and other recreational use of the National Wildlife Refuge System have a huge impact on local economies, annually generating between $2.1 billion and $4.2 billion and supporting more than 34,000 U.S. jobs, mostly in rural areas.

But what do your federal duck stamp dollars accomplish? The average cost of conserving land through the program is about $880 per acre, meaning your $25 duck stamp purchase in 2015 will conserve about 1,208 square feet of waterfowl habitat. The next time you visit a national wildlife refuge or waterfowl production area acquired with duck stamp funds, stand in your favorite spot, look around at an area about 35 feet by 35 feet, and feel good about the conservation impact that you made with your individual decision to hunt waterfowl and buy a federal duck stamp.

Federal duck stamp dollars are also used to purchase conservation easements from private landowners on some of the best remaining waterfowl breeding habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region. These easements protect threatened native prairie forever and help ranchers stay in the cattle business instead of having to sell their land or plow grass under. In 2013 alone, about 53,000 acres of small wetlands and associated grasslands were protected via conservation easements in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region. In this way, your duck stamp dollars not only keep vital waterfowl habitat on the landscape but also directly benefit the people who work the land, and all the businesses that rely on them.

Buy a State Hunting License, Support Conservation One of the best things that hunters and nonhunters alike can do to support conservation is to buy a state hunting license. It's true that anyone who wants to hunt must buy a license. But everyone who benefits economically in any way from hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts also benefits from the conservation work supported by hunting license fees. Everyone who enjoys birding, canoeing, or hiking on state-owned wildlife management areas does so through the support of hunting license fees entrusted to the state agencies. And even those who never leave the city enjoy environmental benefits, such as cleaner water and reduced flooding, that are provided to all residents through state-managed lands and made possible by the purchase of state hunting licenses. So whether or not you go hunting this year, buy a license. By doing so, you'll be personally supporting conservation and your state's economy.

To hunt waterfowl, you'll also need a shotgun and ammunition, of course. Although it won't be itemized on your receipts, all sales of firearms and ammunition in the United States include a 10 to 11 percent tax, which was established in 1937 by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration (Pittman-Robertson) Act. Although these taxes are collected by the federal government, each and every dollar is dedicated to conservation, and the vast majority of the revenue is granted back to state conservation agencies. Remember that state hunting license you bought? The license money is used as a match by your state agency to secure these federally administered Wildlife Restoration funds on a three-to-one basis.

Consequently, for every dollar an agency allocates to approved conservation projects, the state gets an additional three dollars from the federal government through the Wildlife Restoration Program. The cumulative economic impact of this unique funding partnership is enormous. For example, between 1970 and 2006, the Wildlife Restoration Program netted $251 million per year, which was derived from $3.1 billion in annual firearm and ammunition purchases by hunters and shooters. In addition, interest earned while Wildlife Restoration revenues are held by the federal government is funneled into NAWCA. This is another federal matching grant program that DU, the states, and other partners use to conserve vital waterfowl habitats. And this conservation work has huge benefits for the broader economy. Each year, NAWCA projects support an estimated 7,500 jobs and generate over $200 million for the workforce.

But the ripple effects from your decision to hunt waterfowl don't stop there. When the hunting season finally arrives, many waterfowlers will stay at a motel close to their hunting spot, which provides revenue for the motel owner and nearby restaurants. Others will get up early and leave from home, stopping at a local convenience store to buy gas for the truck, and drinks and snacks to enjoy in the blind. After the hunt, many will stop at a diner to get a hot breakfast and strong coffee, leaving a nice tip for the waitress because she was so friendly to a bunch of sleep-deprived duck hunters. All these expenditures are the way the economy really works. It's not something tightly controlled by Washington-it's you and your friends spending your money as you choose. A great example of the economic importance of waterfowl hunting is provided by the Stuttgart, Arkansas, Chamber of Commerce, which estimates that every day of the duck season generates at least $1 million for the local economy.

It's Time to Renew My DU Membership

Your personal decision to join DU is an important complement to your decision to hunt waterfowl and also helps fuel the nation's conservation and economic engines. For example, many federal conservation programs require nonfederal matching funds, so contributions to DU provide the leverage state agencies need to obtain Wildlife Restoration Act funds and NAWCA grants for important waterfowl habitat projects, and help the USFWS secure easements on waterfowl production areas using federal duck stamp funds. There are many conservation programs available to private landowners, but these programs can often be difficult to sort out for busy farmers and ranchers. Here, too, DU makes the conservation process more efficient by helping landowners determine which programs are the best fit for their particular needs. DU can also do some things, such as protect land that is threatened with imminent development, more quickly than the government can. For this and other reasons, many landowners prefer to work with DU than with government agencies.

Through your decisions to hunt waterfowl and join DU, you are part of a very large, productive, interdependent community. Nationally, the economic engine of conservation is fueled by more than 90 million hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers who spend almost $145 billion annually on their hobbies. A 2013 study estimated that a total of $38.8 billion was invested annually in natural resource conservation, resulting in a total economic contribution of $93 billion and more than 660,000 jobs. As a waterfowl hunter and DU member, you can take great pride in the important role you are playing in conserving crucial habitat for North America's waterfowl and keeping our nation's economy strong.

Dr. Scott Yaich is chief scientist at DU headquarters in Memphis.

Economic Benefits of Conservation to Society One of the primary justifications for the government to provide strong support for conservation is that it benefits everyone. Conservation of natural habitats and resources provides what scientists call "ecological goods and services," a fancy way of saying "nature's benefits." The goods and services that natural habitats provide have real economic value. One study estimated that across the globe, the average value of the benefits provided by one acre of inland wetlands exceeded $10,000.