OUR VIEW: Hunters spark local economy, but could do more
We often praise hunting for its cultural value, but not as often for its value in dollars and cents.
Hunting Works for Oregon is trying to change that. The newly created organization is based off similar ones in the Midwest, which gather local partners to spread the gospel of hunting’s economic impact on rural areas.
According to a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, $248 million is spent annually by hunters in Oregon — about $1,200 by each of the 196,000 men, women and children who tote a rifle or bow into our mountains and meadows.
That’s a lot of money, and money mostly funneled to the rural parts of the state, where local economies have struggled for decades. That includes places like John Day, Wallowa County, Malheur County. And yes, here in our neck of the woods, too.
Richard Stapleman, a custom boot maker, has had just one local customer since he opened his shop off Main Street in Pendleton. Every other client has been an out-of-towner, he said, many of whom were brought to the area because of nearby hunting.
Stapleman is not alone. Tradespeople, small business owners, retail and service industries all benefit from travelers. Hunters just travel to different places than your average tourist and do it during what is often the slowest time of the year. Yet that economic shot in the arm for rural Oregon is in danger. Hunter participation is in steep decline, down more than 15 percent in the last decade alone.
Gary Lewis, a member of Hunting Works for Oregon and a high profile outdoors writer and television show host, said myriad factors are to blame.
Hunting has gotten much more expensive, as everything from purchasing tags to buying the gas to get to a trailhead has increased in cost.
And since the state went to controlled hunts in the mid-1990s, hunters often have to plan ahead more than six months in advance to secure a tag. No longer can you look out on a bright fall morning and just go hunting.
But even with advance planning, the tag and lottery system means hunters many not be able to hunt the places they know best. That decreases their success rate, and later their rate of returning to the sport. The
tag system has greatly increased game management, but it has greatly reduced the flexibility of hunters — reducing participants and days spent in the woods.
Rules and regulations and paperwork have only grown, too, and rather than fight the fuzzy bureaucracy or take the chance of making a costly mistake, hunters are just packing up and going home.
There are also access issues. Some of the best private hunting land, which used to require just a handshake and maybe a little gift of whiskey to secure access to, is now being sold at top dollar to guides and their richest clients.
The requirement to take hunter education classes, a necessity in modern times, may have cut down on the bonding experience of learning hunting in the field from a parent or mentor.
The increase in predators is certainly another factor, but one we feel often overshadows the root causes.
Because the main culprit is habitat degradation, and the urban sprawl that has put more space between us and the wild places where animals live.
Internet and video games and fewer young people familiar with the outdoors hasn’t helped.
But neither have hunters in some respects. Lewis said many believe roughly 50 percent of big game animals killed in Oregon are poached — an awful statistic that shows the ethical hunters are paying for the misdeeds of those who don’t follow the rules.
Then there is the conservative political bent that has seeped into hunting — alienating half the country. Many of us know that hunters and anglers are among the most devout conservationists, yet they have pitted themselves against the green movement in many battles. If these two groups can’t put aside political animosity for the greater good, they have no one to blame but themselves.
The simplest explanation is that hunting has just gotten harder. Lewis said success rates in some parts of Oregon have been cut in half or worse, from near 40 percent down into the teens. Hunting isn’t the supermarket — there are no guarantees — but the more successful hunters are the more they want to return.
Hunting Works for Oregon has plenty of challenges ahead of it in order to stem the tide and see hunter participation go back on the upswing.
We hope they stay out of the political morass and keep their eye on the real prize: reducing costs and expanding opportunities for hunters.
Because right now hunting means a lot to the Eastern Oregon economy, but it could mean much more.