Wildlife Recreation Reinvestment
A Novel Formula for Dedicated Wildlife Funding
Christopher Spatz and John Laundre'
Last September in a Salt Lake Tribune Op-Ed, Peter Metcalf of Black Diamond Equipment, and Doug Tompkins, The North Face founder, called upon Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, former CEO/President of the giant outdoor retailer and 11 million member co-op, REI, not to lift proposed federal protections for the Gray Wolf. Their piece raised hackles among certain wildlife advocates and sportsmen who consider outdoor gear manufacturers and retailers like Black Diamond, The North Face and REI as the root of the problem - deadbeats, even - in the war for the soul of predator management and wildlife funding.
And for 30 years, predator and wildlife advocates have been complaining to one another how the game is rigged (CRF: guilty). How, because excise taxes on hunting gear collected under the Pittman-Roberston Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (P-R), and the comparable Dingell-Johnson Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (D-J) supplement 1/3 of state wildlife management funding, state game agencies remain beholden to the nation's 14 million hunters and 33 million anglers, whose license fees provide the other 2/3 of the annual $2 billion dedicated to all US wildlife funding. In a 2009 High Country News editorial entitled Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, outdoor journalist Hal Herring sums up the sniveling:
â€œMeanwhile, year after year, anti-hunting and allegedly pro-wildlife groups bemoan huntersâ€™ influence over wildlife management, and celebrate the decline in hunter numbers. Yet they offer no methods to replace the lost wildlife and habitat revenues that result from those declines.â€
For the record, hunting declines have rebounded nationally, and gun and ammo sales are fueling record-setting P-R funding: 2011: $388 million, 2012: $555 million 2013: $760 million. 2014 was also a record year for combined P-R/D-J: $1.1 billion. For the time being, many state agencies are recovering.
But what about the 95% of non-game wildlife and the 85% of the public who don't hunt or fish? How to find a wildlife funding mechanism for non-game and predators, how to provide a voice in wildlife management for the non-sportsmen public - especially for the nation's 72 million wildlife watchers - has been the Holy Grail for wildlife advocates. But those lugging the money bags and the influence calling out Sally Jewell have been remarkably stingy, if not willfully protective of their bottom lines at the expense of 12,000 wildlife species on the verge of becoming threatened or endangered.
Teaming With Wildlife: If It's Good for Handguns...
In response to a 1999 proposed P-R/D-J style, 8% federal outdoor gear excise tax to fund Teaming With Wildlife (TWW) - the federal wildlife program meant to protect 12,000 at-risk species who receive less than 5% of all wildlife funding - the American Outdoor Recreation Coalition (AORC) representing outdoor gear manufacturers/retailers, and others, fought off the dedicated wildlife tax proposal. The 6,400 NGO-member TWW program represents the very broad-based wildlife coalition with the very emphasis on funding non-game wildlife that advocates and wildlife writers have been screaming for. But AORC argued that an excise tax on gear never meant for outdoor recreation like school backpacks and fanny packs would put a burden on manufacturers/retailers, that out-of-pocket payment would not go directly to the resource and was an unacceptable "user fee" that would not link the payer to the resource. However, speaking of user fees and linking payers to the resource, witness handguns.
As a result of the gun control debate and spikes in handgun sales after each incident of mass shootings, handgun sales have surged. Historically, handguns, long guns, and ammo have provided about 1/3 each of the P-R excise tax, meaning nearly half of the P-R gun/ammo tax is handgun-related. Frequently championed as a user tax to benefit game species, hunter education, and wildlife habitat conservation, half the P-R tax targets sales of merchandise entirely unrelated to hunting (handgun hunters, of course, are a tiny percentage) or wildlife conservation. If gun/ammo manufacturers can absorb a dedicated wildlife tax on half of their products unrelated to gun/ammo use, why can't the AORC help fund a program that targets 12,000 at-risk wildlife, especially when a significant group of its consumers, those 72 million wildlife watchers, have demonstrated a willingness to pay extra to support their resource?
How come a $600 million a year gun manufacturer like Smith & Wesson, or a $3.6 billion outdoor/sportsmen retailer like Cabela's can handle an 11% gear excise tax, when an $11 billion outdoor gear manufacturer like The North Face, or a $2 billion annual outdoor recreation retailer like REI, won't?
Say what you will about how P-R benefits game animals, how funding crumbs are left for non-game species, or how hunting and predator management should never be used in the same sentence, gun owners, the gun industry, and sportsmen are exponentially more generous and willing to fund wildlife than the tree-hugging, wildlife watching, wildlife tax-aversive likes of Black Diamond, The North Face, and REI. In contrast to the gun industry, the outdoor gear industry looks like the wildlife funding deadbeats that they are.
$2 billion dedicated each year to all US wildlife. $2 billion, built primarily on the backs of hunters and anglers, on the back of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that remains the world standard. Is $2 billion a lot? What is the collective outdoor recreation industry making, and how do those revenues compare to that $2 billion of sportsmen-generated dedicated wildlife funding?
In the grand scheme of outdoor recreation revenues and wildlife conservation, $2 billion is chump-change.
Bigger Than Big Pharma, Bigger Than Detroit, Bigger Than Oil
$646 billion. According to this 2012 Outdoor Economic Recreation Economy (OREE) report, that's what we spend each year in the US on outdoor recreation, including gear and trip related sales. OREE is so big, it about doubles consumer spending on pharmaceuticals ($331 billion), motor vehicles ($340 billion), and even gas/fuel ($354 billion). And, itâ€™s not far behind spending for outpatient health care ($767 billion) and financial services & insurance ($780 billion).
The OREE report details the spending of outdoor activities including bicycling, camping, fishing, hunting, motorcycling, off-roading, snow sports, trail sports, water sports, and wildlife viewing (hunting and fishing, with snow sports, are at the bottom in revenues, p. 17). Product sales, including apparel, footwear, equipment, vehicles, accessories and services total $120.7 billion, product sales from which P-R/D-J are taxed. Not including hunting and fishing, or unrelated-for-our-purposes off-roading and motorcycling, there's about $80 billion in outdoor recreation product available for a comparable P-R/D-J tax.
The 8% gear excise tax first proposed for TWW on $80 billion could raise $6.4 billion annually, or about six times what was generated jointly from P-R/D-J in this record setting year. Just a 1% excise tax dedicated to TWW on outdoor gear would about equal the excise tax contribution from an average P-R/D-J year this century. Meanwhile, TWW's State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program goes begging each year for its undedicated $60 million in appropriations to fund those 12,000 at-risk species, as the states keep looking for ways to meet wildlife funding deficits.
Step-Child State Wildlife Funding
As state wildlife shortfalls loomed during the last 40 years (states need to produce some matching revenue, typically from state fishing and hunting license sales, in order to receive federal P-R/D-J allocations), any number of supplemental funding sources have been proposed and passed by the states. The most successful have been tiny, 1/8 - 3/8 of 1% general sales taxes in Missouri and Arkansas that spread the burden and give all citizens an equal say - theoretically - in how wildlife are managed, while dedicating critical funding for non-game species. State gear excise taxes, wildlife license plates and wildlife stamps, tax return check-offs, cigarette taxes, real estate transfer fees, percentages from state lotteries, and fees from resource extraction dedicated to wildlife have also met with some success. 15 of these state funding initiatives have been analyzed in this extensive University of Michigan study.
As noted above, though hunting and fishing had seen decades of declines, the long economic downturn turned people back to the woods, lakes and streams, and with youth hunting initiatives, have resulted in a significant resurgence in participation, with that boost in both excise taxes and license sales. Some states are suddenly seeing wildlife funding surpluses after years of making cuts. But what about finding a way to tap that tantalizing third branch of wildlife recreation, wildlife watching, whose nearly $55 billion in revenues (p. 4) exceed both hunting and fishing, providing a funding and management voice for our 72 million wildlife watchers?
Let's stop scaring the capris off outdoor recreation industry executives making billions from wildlife watchers while complaining about wildlife management but refusing to fund wildlife. If the producers and sellers won't support a wildlife excise tax, it's high time that outdoor gear consumers demand that a piece of our gear-purchase taxes get reinvested in our wildlife.
Make It Here, Make It Anywhere
Every five years, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service produces a National Survey on Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, including the billions in revenues generated by fishing, hunting and wildlife watching. In the most recent, 2011 USFWS survey (p. 98), New York State lead the nation in wildlife watching expenditures at $10.6 billion: $4.1 billion in-state, and $6.5 billion out-of-state. New York also ranked second nationally in fishing/hunting related expenditures, $5.3 billion, or about half of its wildlife-watching income. New York anglers spent $2 billion in-state; hunters $1.6 billion. That's nearly $16 billion in wildlife-related expenditures, $7.9 billion spent in-state. With an 8% state sales tax rate, wildlife spending generated $628 million in New York state taxes, 5.8% of $10.9 billion in New York sales tax. Or, put it this way: wildlife recreation fuels nearly 6% of the New York State economy. Between wildlife watchers and sportsmen, no state spends more money, or more taxes, on wildlife recreation than New Yorkers.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), each $1 invested in wildlife and wildlife habitat returns $7 in jobs and business to the state's economy. This Association of Wildlife Agencies economic study of P-R/D-J's excise taxes produced an $11--$21 return for every $1 spent - an 1100% return on investment (a spending/investment return utterly lost on the outdoor recreation industry, but apparently, not on the gun industry). A couple of states have dedicated a chunk of lottery revenues for wildlife: a percentage goes to lottery winners, a percentage goes to wildlife. As an incentive for wildlife supporters, why not dedicate - reinvest - a piece of those collected wildlife-related sales taxes and treat wildlife as lottery winners? Reward wildlife for the work wildlife does in the economy, piggy-backing on promotion of the DEC's NY Open for Fishing and Hunting/Watchable Wildlife programs, and market outdoor recreation spending as the incentive to boost wildlife spending.
Wildlife Investment: Just 25 Cents From Every $100 Spent
New York State lottery winner payouts receive 59% of lottery sales (32% goes to education). Comparably, dedicate/reinvest 60% of the total annual in-state tax from wildlife-related sales. For 2011, 60% of $628 million in wildlife-related sales would create $332 million for the dedicated wildlife fund, and distribute as the percentage each activity contributed to the 2011 wildlife recreation total: 53% from wildlife watching, 25% from fishing, and 22% from hunting. Dedicate the wildlife watching revenue to non-consumptive wildlife and TWW's at-risk species ($176 million), non-game and at-risk species finally get their dedicated funding (and, presumably, that long, lost voice at the wildlife management table), and fishing ($83 million) and hunting ($73 million) get the share they contribute as a supplement to license sales and P-R/D-J, $49 million and $20 million, respectively in 2011.
Just as Pittman-Robertson first redirected its gear excise tax from the US Treasury to the Department of the Interior, there is no new tax to collect, the wildlife recreation sales percentage is simply gleaned and dedicated from the total state sales tax. The wildlife-related dedicated fund of $332 million in 2011 would represent about .25% of the $136 billion for all New York spending. Fix the .25% as the annual investment to the dedicated wildlife fund, wildlife get 25 cents from every $100 spent in New York, and New York State keeps the other 40% in wildlife generated sales tax, more than $250 million. And based on DEC's and Association of Wildlife Agencies reports, that $332 million wildlife reinvestment would return $2.3 - $7 billion, or between $180 - $560 million in additional state sales tax: good for retailers, good for Discover NY's Nature attractions, and good for state coffers.
Obviously, the impressive numbers generated by New York State can't be matched everywhere, and five states are without sales taxes, but the formula of reinvesting some percentage of the revenues produced by wildlife watching, fishing and hunting for a dedicated wildlife fund is viable for every state with a sales tax needing to supplement non-game and at-risk wildlife. Two experts long in the wildlife funding trenches gave our formula - and its novel proposal to target wildlife watching expenditures - the thumbs up.
Finally, if the outdoor recreation industry, a number of whom like The North Face and Patagonia have famously created conservation projects and grants from their profits - albeit a much smaller funding source than the TWW excise tax - deserve reproach, so, too, do the Big Ten Green conservation NGOs, aka Gang Green. Despite their Washington, D.C. K Street lobbying presence, Gang Green has failed for decades to create a federal non-game funding answer to P-R/D-J (some even helped scrap a version of the TWW bill proposal funded by offshore drilling royalties). Ironically, a review of the Michigan funding study reveals that the people who sought better state wildlife funding were largely the state wildlife managers themselves. In only two cases were NGOs partners in state wildlife funding initiatives, and one of those was a sportsmen's group. The other, the biggest Green NGO, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), who helped develop Arizona's $10 million annual wildlife Heritage Fund.
Together, Gang Green is worth over $7 billion (TNC accounts for $6 billion), and no small part of that has been raised on the hides of predator targeted campaigns (donate to this or that save-the-predator pop-ups appear in our Google searches all the time). Unless you're running a wildlife rehab or captive breeding facility, member dues and donations don't go directly to predators or non-game species. They go to the NGOs (BTW, CRF's gratefully member-supported assets number in the several $ thousands, and all of us are volunteers), who like CRF, work on behalf of wildlife without directly funding wildlife.
$7 billion for Gang Green. $55 billion on wildlife watching spent annually in the US, and virtually none of it is dedicated to wildlife funding. $80 billion in outdoor gear revenues potentially taxable for TWW's 12,000 at-risk species torpedoed by millionaire gear designers and billionaire outdoor recreation companies. And what the US can muster for wildlife every year, the celebrated North American Conservation Model, mustered mostly for the farming of deer, ducks, pheasant and trout - for game species - remains $2 billion.
Go ahead, blame the sportsmen and the agencies who continue to find and create funding streams for their resources. The alchemists who've spun fleece from plastic bottles, the legal eagles who've wielded marvelously provisions in the Endangered Species Act to enforce the Act, and the Gang Green moguls merchandizing wildlife mugs and stuffed animals - wildly successful marketing and lobbying campaigns produced by bright and dedicated people - and only a single, tiny state dedicated wildlife fund has been created from our collective, wildlife loving imaginations in 30 years.
Predator and wildlife advocates have no one to blame but ourselves.
We'll let you know if our wildlife recreation reinvestment funding proposal takes root in New York State.
Thank you to artist Rod McGiver for the use of his Shadows image on our masthead.