DES MOINES — Declines in pheasant and deer numbers, wildlife habitat and interest among young people are threatening a hunting industry in Iowa that advocates said Wednesday generates $288 million in spending and supports 6,200 jobs statewide each year.
“The ripple effect is nothing short of amazing,” said Libbey Patton, tourism director for the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and co-leader of a newly formed Hunting Works in Iowa partnership of business groups and outdoor enthusiasts. “Hunters bring a lot of money to our town and many others, and that results directly in more jobs and more tax revenue at the local level.”
Jim Henter, president of the Iowa Retail Federation, cited estimates from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation indicating that each year 251,000 people hunt in Iowa, spending an average of $1,140 per season on trip-related expenses such as lodging, food, gas and gear. That activity results in more than $288 million in yearly spending that translates to $23.4 million in state and local taxes and a $359.5 million ripple effect for Iowa’s economy, he added.
Henter said a broad coalition of local and regional leaders representing Iowa chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, sporting organizations, small businesses, lodging and retailers have formed Hunting Works for Iowa to promote the economic partnership between the hunting community and local Iowa economies.
“Hunting is responsible both directly and indirectly for thousands of jobs across Iowa,” Henter said. “By bringing this diverse group of partners together, Hunting Works for Iowa will advocate for public policy that supports hunters and shooters and the jobs they create.”
Coalition co-leader Steve Ries, owner of Top Gun Kennel in Central City, said much of the money used to conserve wildlife areas and restore habitat that benefits both game and non-game species comes from hunters. But, in recent years, state Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, officials said the number of annual resident hunting licenses has declined and harsh winters with heavy snowfall have deteriorated Iowa’s pheasant population.
DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said the number of resident hunting licenses dropped steadily from 194,000 in 2001 to 160,000 in 2011. Likewise, the number of pheasants harvested by hunters in Iowa slipped from close to 1 million annually to 250,000 last year.
DNR Director Roger Lande said recent harsh Iowa winters with snowfall amounts topping 30 inches a year cut into Iowa wildlife populations and farming practices have reduced the level of wildlife habitat in parts of the state. He said he was encouraged that the mild winter that just occurred in Iowa would help rebuild wildlife populations, but he noted that the trend lines would not change significantly over a single year.
DNR and hunting enthusiasts said more outreach and mentoring is needed to get nontraditional hunters and young people facing many other distractions involved in outdoor-related activities such as hunting.
Baskins said leading factors that have contributed to the declining number of hunters include age and health factors, time constraints and loss of access to both public and private land.