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The Lure of Georgia’s Wildlife Builds the State’s Economy

September 12, 2016  |  Mike Worley
This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Mike Worley
I’m going on a deer hunt and I’m go­ing to take: a gun, ammunition, scope, camo, tree stand, ATV, cooler, hunting license, binoculars, headlamp, knife, deer call, folding saw and…just like the endless car game we play with our kids, we could go on and on and on.
 
Get the picture? Hunters and anglers in Georgia spend a lot of money every year in supplies and equip­ment to hone their craft and bring home a worthy catch, and their impact sometimes goes unnoticed in public discourse. However, the effect on Georgia’s economy and communities is substantial.
 
First let’s take a look at fishing in Georgia. According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, our state’s 1.4 million anglers annually are responsible for 15,644 Georgia jobs. These jobs deliver $622 million in salaries/wages/earnings, $147 million in federal tax rev­enues and $109 million in state and local tax revenues. Anglers in Georgia spend $1.3 billion each year on their passion, which generates a $2.1 billion impact on the state’s economy. Remarkably, anglers spend 8.7 mil­lion days on Georgia’s ponds, lakes, streams and rivers.
 
Now, let’s see the impact the 630,000 hunters have on our economy. Hunters, per person, are even bigger spenders on their pursuits. Hunters account for $977 million in retail sales in Georgia with a $1.6 billion rip­ple effect each year, an increase of $500 million since 2006. Hunters’ investment in time is almost stunning. Hunters will spend 9.9 million days in the field this year. In 2015, Georgia hunters were responsible for creating 23,996 jobs, $600 million in salaries/wages/earnings, $106 million in state and local taxes, and $145 million in federal tax revenue.
 
As a state, and in our communities, we spend count­less dollars in industry recruitment and rarely think of the economic activity generated by us and our neigh­bors as hunters and anglers. According to one of Geor­gia’s timber management companies, approximately 60 percent of the hunting leases they let are from individu­als or groups from Florida. We get Florida dollars in our shops and restaurants—tourism dollars that are making real impacts in our communities.
 
Clearly, the retail industry takes note of these Georgia hunt­ing and fishing dollars. Combined, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Gander Mountain and REI operate 17 stores in the state with Cabela’s opening an additional store in McDonough next year, and Bass Pro Shops planning a store with­in the greater LakePoint Sporting Community in Emerson. Just as important are the mom and pop hardware stores that cater to the sporting community and the bait shops and the hunting and fishing manufacturers that are located here.
 
Hundreds of vendors and thousands of attendees meet at the Georgia Wildlife Federation’s Buckaramas each year to talk about their shared passion for the outdoors.
Even we at the Georgia Wildlife Federation (GWF) operate hunting and fishing trade shows, our Buckara­mas and our Great Outdoors Show, where outdoor en­thusiasts can come and meet vendors that are experts in their products and how to utilize them in the field. Hundreds of vendors and thousands of attendees meet at these shows to talk about their shared passion for the outdoors.
 
It doesn’t stop with retail sales though. From biolo­gists and game wardens to sales associates and hunting guides, the industry generates an estimated $1.6 billion in annual salaries, breaking down to 40,000 jobs (more than Fort Benning or Delta). Many people predicted that as our population becomes more urban we will see a reduction of hunting and fishing, and for several years, numbers and trends seemed to point in that direction. However, in the last three to four years we’ve begun to see growth in hunting and fishing license sales again, but in non-traditional places.
 
Women are the fastest growing demographic in the outdoors and in shooting sports. Notice that we rarely talk about “sportsMEN” or “fisherMEN” anymore because that is not solely who is going afield. Inter­estingly enough, we are also see­ing growth in millennials taking to the woods and waters. When surveyed, these new members of our community often talk about their strong belief that hunting and fishing for their meal make them more connected to all that entails. They also talk about the fair chase ethic and that the ani­mals and fish they harvest have lived the life they were intended to live. One also hears them talk about the food they eat being the ultimate in organic.
 
Often hunting and fishing is considered in terms of what it does for the individual. It is time in the outdoors with friends and family; it is sharing traditions from one generation to the next; it is being responsible for oneself and responsible for the conservation ethic; it is restorative to the soul...and it is all those things. But, rarely do we talk about the economic impact of that corporate group of hunters from out-of-state at a southwest Georgia quail plantation or that suburban hunter walking onto a wildlife manage­ment area in east Georgia; but as you see, these hunters and anglers are making a true impact on the greater pros­perity in Georgia and in Georgia’s communities.
 
The next time you see a camo clad family in the con­venience store in your neighborhood, think about the fact they are not just leaving footprints in the forest; they are leaving jobs, taxes and a better life in all the communities they visit.
 
GWF is the state’s oldest conservation organization. Since 1936, GWF has fought for clean water, abundant wildlife, and the opportunity for Georgians to hunt and fish on our lands. We are champions of professional, science-based management of our wild places and wild creatures, and we are champions of the people that cherish them.
 
For more information on Georgia Wildlife Federation or the Buckarama, visit www.gwf.org or www.buckarama.net.
 
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