Lower hunting license and pheasant stamps sales decrease game department revenues. But there’s probably something more urgent to the future of conservation and hunting.
By Joe Albert
States across the pheasant range have varying requirements when it comes to the stamps and licenses hunters must purchase to legally pursue ring-necked pheasants.
Some states require nothing more than a general small-game license, while others require hunters to purchase stamps specific to pheasant hunting. A general habitat stamp is the ticket you need in some places, while still others require stamps only when hunters are targeting birds on specific types of property.
At the end of the day, stamp sales (or their equivalent) often tie closely to ringneck habitat projects and upland hunting prospects. We explored the impact of lower pheasant-specific revenues in a lineup of states.
In Minnesota, hunters bought about 72,000 pheasant stamps (required of everyone who targets pheasants) for the 2017 season, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The stamps sell for $7.50 apiece and the proceeds go directly back into habitat projects.
As recently as 2006 and 2007, hunters bought about 129,000 pheasant stamps in Minnesota.
While DNR officials hate to see such declines, they also say the state is in a good position because funding for habitat is broad-based. In 2008 the state’s voters approved an increase of three-eighths of 1 percent to the state sales tax, with a third of that increased revenue – about $100 million per year – earmarked for fish and wildlife habitat. The state also has other dedicated sources of funding for conservation and habitat.
“There is a direct financial loss and that means we are going to be going ‘X’ number of dollars less of habitat work out there,” said Greg Hoch, prairie habitat team leader for the Minnesota DNR. “But the bigger picture is there are fewer people interested in hunting and therefore lobbying for hunting concerns, lobbying for a strong conservation title in the next farm bill, and perhaps not buying as much hunting equipment and therefore fewer (Pittman-Robertson) revenues.”
“For a lot of us,” Hoch says, “what really matters is the lack of people’s voices and a reduced number of citizens out there who are going to bat for conservation. That’s probably more important than the actual dollars lost.”
Colorado doesn’t require a pheasant stamp, but most fishing and hunting license buyers are also required to purchase a $10 habitat stamp. Proceeds are an important source of funds for the Colorado Wildlife Habitat Program, which focuses on protecting fish and wildlife habitat.
Ed Gorman, small game program manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the state recently converted to a new license system, so sales figures aren’t readily available. It’s worth noting, however, that pheasant-hunting reports from Colorado were generally positive throughout the season.
“Year-to-year changes have little or no impact on habitat conservation over the short term,” he said. “Nearly all our work in core pheasant range is purposed with conserving many species of grassland and upland birds and game, of which pheasants are included.”
“In a nutshell,” he concludes, “there are many factors that affect the amount of habitat conservation that hits the ground. License and stamp sales are certainly one of those factors, but they are far from the sole determining factor in how much conservation is applied.”
Like Colorado, Iowa also requires hunters to purchase a habitat license in addition to a hunting license. The habitat fee is $13 for residents and $125 for nonresidents (includes hunting license and habitat fee for hunters older than 18 years of age).
The Iowa DNR annually sends out a survey that provides estimates of pheasant hunter numbers. Given bird counts were down in 2017, Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the agency, figures pheasant hunter numbers will be down several thousand – on par with the nearly 50,000 people who hunted pheasants in the state in 2014.
Resident and non-resident small-game license sales were down in 2017 in South Dakota. Non-residents bought 14,601 fewer 10-day small game licenses than they did in 2016 (a $1.8 million hit in revenue), and residents bought 4,565 fewer annual small game licenses (a $151,000 hit in revenue).
Statewide, pheasant counts in 2017 in South Dakota were down 45 percent, which likely drove the license sales decrease.
“Several years ago, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission (GFP) made the decision to keep in reserve approximately 25 percent of the previous budget year total,” according to Scott Simpson, administrative resources section chief for South Dakota GFP. “By having this reserve, it allows the department to continue services without impacting important access and habitat programs or raising fees. Having a few years in a row like this would obviously impact these programs, though.”
“So, no impact short term,” he concludes, “but there definitely could be an impact if we do not reverse the trend” of reduced license sales.
Pheasant stamp revenue in Wisconsin has been relatively stable in the recent past, bouncing between about $551,000 and $564,000 in fiscal years 2013 to 2017, according to Mark Witecha, upland wildlife ecologist and farm bill specialist in the Wisconsin DNR’s Bureau of Wildlife Management.
Wisconsin’s wild pheasant numbers have been holding fairly steady, which is why hunters have been continuing to purchase licenses … and pheasant stamps. The state’s stocking program also helps sell stamps, the revenue from which supports wild-bird habitat work.
In California, hunters must have a hunting license as well as an upland game bird stamp validation. Like general hunting licenses, sales of those stamps have been declining at a rate of about 2 percent per year since 2010, according to Matt Meshriy, environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and wildlife’s upland game program.
“Obviously, the declines in license sales mean less dollars for conservation and habitat improvement, so we are looking at creative ways to maximize the value of habitat projects for the benefit of multiple species, and targeting ‘recruitment, retention and reinvigoration’ or our hunting community in new ways,” he said.
Across the folks interviewed for this report, these three thoughts comprise a bottom line of more immediate concern than pheasant stamp sales revenue:
*Recruiting new hunters
*Retaining the hunters we have
*Reinvigorating hunters who have left the fold
License and stamp sales will always ebb and flow with bird numbers. Those sales are something we can’t control.
Having a strong base of energized hunters overall is a more pressing concern – one that each and every one of us can help with by getting new hunters in the field, or getting someone who used to hunt back into it.
Along with working to put more habitat on the ground, that’s something we as hunter-conservationists can