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On Target: Wildlife-based recreation dwarfs the state’s famed ski industry in impact

Chances are, if you’ve spent any amount of time in Utah, you know the state has a rich outdoor offering. That’s why it’s no surprise that Utah is well known both locally and nationally for its hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching industries. In fact, these three wildlife-based hobbies have created such an impact on Utah’s economy that they brought in nearly $3 billion in 2011—the latest year the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has data for.

And the amount of people who participate in these industries is staggering. More than a million people participated annually in hunting, fishing or wildlife watching in Utah in 2011, and in doing so, they supported nearly 29,000 jobs and created nearly $933 million in salaries and wages.

Greg Sheehan, director of the Utah DWR, says every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Census Bureau publish a report on the economic benefits of hunting, fishing and wildlife watching nationally. The most recent data was published in 2013, with the data in that report showing economic impacts through 2011.

With that data, another study is conducted by Florida-based Southwick Associates for the Utah DWR to specifically quantify economic benefits of hunting, fishing and wildlife watching just in Utah. The next national report with this data, and the subsequent report on Utah, will be published in 2018 and include data through 2016.

Full Curl Big Horn Sheep in Green River UtahHunting

In 2011, there were 212,000 adults who bought hunting licenses in Utah, according to the Southwick study. These participants spent a total of over three million days hunting in 2011, and about 77 percent of these hunters pursued big game, with deer and elk being the most frequently hunted. About 33 percent of hunters pursued small game, with pheasant being the most frequently hunted.

Sheehan explains that in Utah, some hunting can be done just by purchasing a license, primarily for small game such as ducks and rabbits. With other hunts, hunters must apply to a drawing to obtain a special permit, or tag, to hunt for big game, such as moose and elk. “Some years you get the opportunity to hunt the big game you want, and other times you have to wait many years to get drawn for what you want,” he says.

Sheehan used the year 2002—when the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City—as a marker to show how much hunting popularity has grown in Utah.

“In 2002, we had 180,610 people apply in drawings for big game hunting,” he says. “In 2016, we had 433,979 people apply. We’ve had a 240 percent increase of people wanting to participate in our hunting. In 2016, the number of people [who drew tags] was 311,400. These aren’t small numbers. There are hundreds of thousands of citizens that appreciate this resource we’ve made available.”

Why has hunting grown so much in popularity? Sheehan directly relates that to the quality of wildlife in Utah. Because the DWR has a belief in allowing populations and herds to achieve a more mature status, that allows hunters to have a better experience. In addition, Sheehan say the DWR is also working to bolster some of its other programs, like completing large-scale rooster pheasant releases in the fall so hunters can pheasant hunt with a general hunting license.

On the hunting side alone, according to the Southwick study, about 11,500 jobs were supported in Utah in 2011. And in addition to that, Utah is home to an ever-growing group of companies that focus mainly on hunting, such as Hoyt Archery, Barnes Bullet Company, Easton Archery, Browning Arms and Vista Outdoor, which owns companies such as Camp Chef and Camelbak and just opened its headquarters in Farmington Station in mid-2016.

Sheehan adds that even national chain retail stores that cater to hunters, such as Cabela’s, have specifically chosen Utah because of its growing hunting industry. “Cabela’s does their homework before they move into an area,” he says. “There are only 70-something Cabela’s across the nation and two of them are in Utah just 30 minutes apart.”

Major trade shows have also become a staple in contributing to Utah’s hunting economy, with events like the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo held annually, attracting more than 60,000 visitors each year, Sheehan says.

FishingA fisherman preparing for the best day of his life. He sits on a rock in the Ogden River of Utah preparing his bait and lures for a day of fishing.

In 2016, a total of 690,000 people participated in fishing in Utah, which grew significantly from the 464,000 who fished in 2011, according to the Southwick study. That growth is related in part to the fisheries developed across the state, as well as hatcheries that also help contribute to Utah jobs.

“We’ve developed more than 50 urban and community fisheries in recent years,” Sheehan says. “We want everybody to be within 15 minutes of a fishing opportunity. We also have 12 hatcheries that help contribute to jobs primarily in rural Utah, and we stock about 8 million fish a year across the state.”

According to the Southwick study, about 7,700 jobs were in Utah’s fishing industry in 2011. Since then, businesses related to fishing have continued to pop up across the state, including fishing guide businesses, fishing tackle shops and fly fishing operations. For example, Jason Zicha, owner of Midway-based Fall River Fly Rods Co., started his fishing rod manufacturing company in Eastern Idaho in 2009, but moved the company to Utah in 2012 because of the popularity in the state.

“In the Western U.S., Salt Lake is our number one customer base,” Zicha says.” The fishing industry in Utah is doing really well. Every year we see at least two or three new companies come on the fishing scene. The majority are small, boutique manufacturers looking for a national audience, but choosing Utah as their home base. And fisherman wise, the numbers have always been great. We’re continually able to attract a lot of people to the state that didn’t know Utah had great fisheries just by getting the word out [through marketing and advertising].”

Ravens, Bryce Canyon National ParkWildlife watching

In 2011, according to the Southwick study, there were 402,000 recreationists who watched wildlife more than one mile from their homes. Of those recreationists, 224,000 were state residents and 178,000 were nonresidents. Altogether, these recreationists spent 5.2 million days watching wildlife in Utah. The primary activity they participated in was observing wildlife, while the secondary activity was photographing wildlife. Of the 430,000 recreationists who participated in wildlife watching within one mile of their home, their primary activity was feeding birds.

“Utah has over 400 species of birds that at some point in the year are here,” Sheehan says. “Bird watching in the state is big. It brings people in from all over the country.”

Jobs in Utah related to the wildlife watching industry came in at 9,800 in 2011, according to the Southwick study. “Utah does have a robust group of businesses related to wildlife watching, although not as large as the amount of hunting and fishing businesses,” Sheehan adds.

Economic impacts

Wildlife-based recreation in Utah continues to generate millions of dollars in expenditures each year. In 2011, according to the Southwick study, hunting, fishing and wildlife watching generated $1.72 billion in expenditures for equipment and services consumed. Most of these—$1.2 billion—were made by residents, while nonresidents contributed $509 million.

In addition, expenditures made by wildlife-based recreationists generated rounds of additional spending throughout Utah’s economy. The total economic effect from 2011 wildlife-based recreation in Utah was estimated to be $2.9 billion. Of that, hunting accounted for $1 billion of these impacts, fishing accounted for $865 million, and wildlife watching accounted for $1 billion, according to the study.

State and local tax revenues generated from 2011 wildlife-based recreation in Utah were estimated to be $182.9 million. Anglers accounted for $53.9 million, while hunters and wildlife watchers generated $69.8 million and $59.2 million of the total, respectively, according to the study.

The Utah DWR’s 2016 budget was $85 million. A total of 8.5 percent of that comes from general tax dollars, which means the remainder of budget—nearly $80 million—is self-generated through hunting and fishing license sales.

“The ski industry is talked about a lot, but the total economic benefit of hunting and fishing in our 2006 Southwick report nearly doubled that of the ski industry in Utah,” Sheehan says. “This industry is the silent cousin of the ski industry, and it continues to get bigger and better and is a driver in Utah’s economy.”

Sheehan adds that the industry isn’t just an economic driver—it’s also a part of the quality of life Utah provides. “All those high-tech companies that move here want the outdoor experiences we provide,” he says.