The state Game and Fish Commission today put out a “special news release” expressing its concern over the decline in fishing and hunting licenses, a situation it said “has Commissioners and staff at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission concerned that the funding for natural resource management is in jeopardy.”
The news release said fishing license sales had declined in the last five years from 381,308 to 312,758 (residents) and from 138,508 to 119,747 (nonresidents). Resident hunting licenses declined from 258,356 in FY 2014 to 220,587 in FY 2019. Nonresident licenses were up slightly (20,587 to 21,855, large game; 40,784 to 47,633, small game).
Game and Fish relies not just on licenses but on taxes on gear sold to hunters and fishermen to support its wildlife management. From the news release:
The decline has much more far-reaching effects than dollars lost through license sales. The current North American model of wildlife management depends upon hunters and anglers to provide the backbone for conservation of game and nongame species alike. In addition to license fees, hunters and anglers purchase certain hunting and fishing equipment which is taxed at the manufacturer level. These taxes are then pooled together and distributed to state fish and wildlife agencies to carry out needed conservation work. Not only does a decrease in hunting and fishing mean decreased license funds, it means less tax funds because of decreased spending on hunting and fishing equipment. Additionally, the formula used by the USFWS to distribute those tax funds is based partially on the number of licensed hunters and anglers participating in each state.
This is not news. Sales of fishing and hunting licenses have been on the decline for decades. The news release notes a study by the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that hunting participation peaked in the 1980s. Arkansas’s response to declining license revenues was Amendment 75, approved by voters in 1996, which imposed a 1/8 cent conservation tax in 1997. To persuade voters to support the tax, Game and Fish promised to create “nature centers” in Little Rock, Jonesboro, Pine Bluff and Fort Smith.
But if voters thought that what they would get from supporting the tax — nature centers that addressed issues of clean water, clean air, environmental degradation, endangered species, nature centers celebrating a state’s nonconsumptive fauna, like the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail or kayaking trails, places to learn about such things as native plants and butterflies — they were sorely disappointed. That didn’t happen, because Game and Fish can’t get beyond aquariums and stuffed deer and fishing lures. To the agency, conservation is about preserving land for ducks and deer and fish.
The news release also notes the impact of climate change — though it doesn’t call it that — on wildlife preserves:
The decrease in revenue comes at a time when the AGFC is facing monumental challenges. The greentree reservoirs that create wintering habitat for millions of migrating ducks are in severe stress from decades of floods. Shifting trends in rain and flooding up and down the White, Black, Arkansas and Mississippi rivers also is causing areas to be submerged throughout spring and summer, further damaging the trees along these bottomland hardwood stands. Many dams and water-control structures regulating AGFC-owned fishing areas also are reaching the end of their initial life expectancy and need renovations or replacement.
Is it not inconceivable that a broader view of nature, one that would have attracted, for example, fee-paying people to pristine nature trails and programs on its conservation lands, could have had helped Game and Fish. Perhaps not enough, but with hunters and fishermen on the decline, it seems the agency should recognize that it serves all Arkansans, including its sportsmen.