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Hunting and Fishing in America: “All Dollars, No Sense”

by Beau Beasley

Living outside the nation’s capital as I do, I get a steady dose of political news whether I want to hear it or not. While most Americans go about their daily lives just trying to pay their bills and raise their kids, even they can’t help but notice how badly the operation of the federal government has deteriorated. Last year politicians from both parties believed it would be better to shut down the government entirely—and blame the other side for doing so—than to compromise with each other.

News organizations, which thrive on this discord, hyped the stalemate, even posting countdown clocks to encourage viewer anxiety as we drew closer to “doomsday.” In the end, and despite the incessant hand-wringing, most Americans were almost totally unaffected by the government shutdown.


Analysis by the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, data from OMB

One group of citizens, however, took the government shutdown directly in the neck: American sportsmen, their families, and those whose business cater to them. Hunters and anglers, campers, paddlers, and hikers who had planned outings and vacations were essentially held hostage by politicians who used them as pawns. Because congress couldn’t reach an agreement, political gamesmanship ensured that federal parkland, normally open and available to sportsmen and vacationing families, sat off limits and idle. As is so often the case, the parks remained barred to their owners—the American people—for purely political reasons and to inflict the most pain possible.

Along Montana’s Bighorn River, armed National Park Service personnel patrolled the “public” boat launches, shooing away professional guides who tried to take clients fishing. In case armed personnel proved an insufficient deterrent, NPS employees erected barricades to prevent guides from using the launches. At Mount Rushmore, traffic cones lined highway pulloffs to prevent motorists from stopping to take photographs of the iconic monument.

The federal government even attempted bar access to the ocean: Both Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks were closed. A message sent to commercial permit holders read:

Effective at 6 PM on October 1, 2013, both Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks will be closed. While our law enforcement rangers will remain on duty, all other administrative activities and visitor services will be discontinued until the shutdown has been lifted.If you have a trip planned for October 1st, you must conclude your business within the park by 6 PM. After today, you may not offer any services within the park’s boundaries until further notice.We regret the burden that this will place on your livelihood.

This one closure effectively shut down fishing for more than 1,100 square miles.

Freshwater anglers felt the sting of the closures as well. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is far and away the most visited national park. In 2012, the Smokies drew nearly 10 million visitors—more than twice the number of visitors to the Grand Canyon, the next most visited park. A lot of those visitors come for the trout fishing. Byron Begley, owner of Little River Fly Shop in Townsend, Tennessee, is blunt in his assessment: “The government shutdown really hurt us since we have so many of our customers fishing in the Park. It’s really been a one-two punch for us. First we had to deal with the rain last spring that made the rivers almost unfishable, and then the Feds. I don’t think those guys in Washington have any idea how much the shutdown hurt us.”

Begley’s mind is on his shop, but the small towns that surround the Park like Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg also took a hit from the slump in tourism. Angling aside, consider the millions of hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers, and families who also stayed away. In fact the towns that rely on the Smokies for revenue petitioned the Park Service, insisting that they’d privately fund the Park themselves if it would only reopen.

Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody County Chamber of Commerce in Cody, Wyoming, expressed frustration as well: “We have nearly 600 members in our chamber and they reported a 20- to 30-percent decrease in business during the October shutdown. While fall is not a peak time in Cody, it’s an increasingly popular time to visit this area, and Yellowstone in particular. So certainly the shutdown had an effect. For us, because of the distance that many travelers come–including a significant number of European travelers who come at that time of year–it’s incredibly important that visitors make their plans and travel with confidence. When the Park shuts down, that obviously has an adverse effect as people can’t travel or book with confidence.”

Do I believe that our politicians set out to hurt Americans? No, I don’t. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what they often do. We frequently hear them reciting one of their favorite talking points: They want to find a way to bolster the weak economy that besets the beleaguered, middle-class American worker. And yet in Washington, they fight tooth and nail to keep national parks closed to American sporting, which generates wealth and prosperity for millions.

In 2011, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), a trade group headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, published a report that claimed that the country’s combined economic output from fishing was $48 billion. Tack on an additional $38 billion generated by hunting—and you’re talking about some real money.

But what do these figures mean? The same ASA report lists Florida as the top-rated state for income from angler expenditures. Imagine the hit to the Florida economy—and the public outcry—if the government shutdown kept Disney World shuttered for more than two weeks. And yet fishing brings in more money to the state coffers than the Magic Kingdom does. In fact fishing-related dollars spent in Florida exceed money spent in Disney World and all the other state theme parks like Epcot Center and Sea World combined. “The Outdoor Recreation Economy,” a report sponsored by the Outdoor Industry Association, concludes that a total of $646 billion are spent on outdoor recreational related products, and outdoor recreation generates six million American jobs.

Conservation organizations also inject millions of donated dollars to conservation projects all over the country. Ducks Unlimited, for example, has protected or restored 13 million acres of wetlands since its inception in 1937. “But they’re only protecting wetlands to support the duck populations they hope to hunt in the future,” argue critics. To which I respond: Exactly! Hunters contribute to preserving wetlands and other habitats; the improved water quality benefits everyone. Every acre of protected marshland or wetland is essentially held in trust for us all—and for ducks, herons, bears, loons, bobcats, beavers, ospreys, moose, and diverse plant life. Heck, even alligators get a bump from better water quality. Think about it: Who will choose to send hard-earned dollars to support groups like Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, and the Tarpon and Bonefish Trust, if doing so doesn’t provide access to our country’s natural places of wonder?

When the federal government is many trillions of dollars in debt, when the economy is weak and good-paying jobs are scarce, when technocrats assume that they know what’s best for us, when politicians lose any interest in compromise and see political opponents (and those who vote for them) merely as enemies to be defeated, when crony corporatism replaces the capitalism that made this country the greatest economic powerhouse the world has ever seen—then sportsmen and the small businesses that cater to them are truly on their own. The federal government isn’t coming to bail out Byron Begley or the small businesses owners in Cody, Wyoming, who are still hurting.

Approximately 1 percent of the total federal budget is spent on natural resources. In fact, spending on natural resources now is nearly half of what it was in the late 1970s. Politicians talk tough about sound economic policy and job creation while simultaneously reducing funding for conservation efforts and denying hunters and anglers access to public land—or in other words, they attempt to balance the budget by digging for loose change in the national couch.


Analysis by the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, data from OMB

A gloomy picture? Yes. But all is not lost. Organizations like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership are working closely with both political parties on common cause issues and have met with some success. Recently the House of Representatives passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (H.R. 3590) with support from both Democrats and Republicans. Introduced by Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), Tim Walz (D-Minnesota), Rob Wittman (R-Virginia), and 86 co-sponsors, the bill has broad support on both sides of the political aisle. Among other boons to sportsmen, the bill would promote hunting and fishing on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and facilitate the online sale of federal duck stamps. No bill is perfect—but H.R. 3590 goes a long way to helping sportsmen get back on the stream and in the field. We can only hope that the Senate decides to pass similar legislation. Let us hope that in the wake of the federal shutdown, our representatives in Congress have learned that any policy that undermines American sporting is all dollars and no sense.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Beau Beasley is an investigative conservation writer and the director of both the Texas and Virginia Fly Fishing festivals.
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  • Uncle Jake

    Good article but a little too fair and balanced. Lets lay blame where it belongs. Who are the anti gunners? Who are the antihunters? Which party has these type of things in their platforms? Which party pushes these things? The Dems. Repubs are not clean, but the Dems controlled the govt and could have compromised. The Obama administration from the beginning refused to compromise on anything and shut the Repubs and anyone disagreeing with them out of the conversations. They forced the govt shutdown. The Repubs have had to give in or face liberal media blaming them and distorting the truth. Please be more specific in the future as to causes as to do otherwise lets people (politicians and voters) off the hook.

    • Beau Beasley

      Uncle Jake,

      As an outdoor writer who spends a great deal of time doing research and finding facts, I do my best to present those facts in a manner that engages the read. I try to be ruthlessly impartial as best I can on every subject I write about. I take the view that no one cares about “my opinion” as the writer, but instead my job is to find facts and let those facts speak for themselves. We the people (and especially sportsman) need to be engaged in the process in how to best protect, and yes use, our natural resources wisely. Thanks for reading Mid-Current, with out readers like you, we would not exist.

  • mike miller

    Goverment is a joke!!!!

    • mike

      No, people who go on the internet to bellow inane, substance-free and useless things like this are the joke.

  • TomAdkinson

    Uncle Jake is emblematic of what Beasley wrote about — intransigent non-thinkers who who would rather throw stones than work on finding solutions (and then not even identify themselves).

    I carried three points away from Beasley’s essay. (1) We as citizens should communicate with our elected representatives at all levels and keep them informed about our views. (2) We should hold them accountable. (3) We should support them when they are able to lay partisanship aside.

  • T

    No party is anti-hunting. That is nonsense talk and unhelpful.

  • Kyle

    Not an Obama fan, but Obama is still cleaning up the mess of the Bush years. He put Repub proposals in clean bills on the table and they wouldn’t even vote for their own bills. Why do conservatives always blame the media, scientists, universities, and any source of information rather than actually take on issues with the use of facts rather than this maniac talk that makes them sound more coherent than they already are. Democrats and Republicans overspend, screw the environment, and make us all pay so that the rich and corporations can do whatever they want. Partisanship is bad for all of us.

    • Kyle

      *incoherent – HA!

    • TeaPartyNutjob

      “cleaning up”? I agree that Bush did a lot of damage w.r.t. spending and government over-reach. Obama has taken it a couple orders of magnitude. For those in Rio Linda, that means times 100.

  • Scott

    Beau – I really enjoyed your article and the impartiality. Both political parties don’t quite know what to do with this topic as their ranks are equally full of outdoor enthusiasts. While democrats can be painted with the broad brush strokes of being “anti-guns”, their party is filled with union organized voters that are hunters, shooters and anglers. Being a staunch conservative, my own party disappoints me often as well regarding environmental protection. Outdoor enthusiasts are a party sometimes unto themselves…and unfortunately in the minority as you articulately pointed out.
    Fishing in the smokies this next week…and stopping in Byron’s shop as I do each year!

    • Beau Beasley

      Scott, I appreciate your kind and considerate response. I find myself in much the position that you are. One side is ready to practically worship trees while the other side seems OK with cutting down the last tree as long as someone makes a buck. This is precisely why we need to be engaged with our legislators and let them know where we stand on these issues. Democracy is a participatory sport. Thanks again for your feed back, and keep supporting Mid-Current.

  • Mike

    It’s noble and all to seek to be impartial and balanced but if that value precludes attempting an honest take on the facts then all you’re really doing is crassly trying to avoid driving half your readers toward media geared to tell them what they want to hear. This “pox on both houses” approach allows some really crazy ideas to flourish. But, hey, we are no longer a people who respond to a negative judgment with any reflection. We just deflect by calling people haters, then amp up our deal to 11.

    This is dishonest: “Last year politicians from both parties believed it would be better to shut down the government entirely—and blame the other side for doing so—than to compromise with each other.”

    This is just rhetoric, demagoguery even: “The federal government even attempted [to] bar access to the ocean.”

    The people who shut down the government to try to ramrod their demands through our ostensibly democratic system by creating a hostage situation came away with nothing (again) and won’t try that stunt again for another generation. What do you make of that?

    As for the intersection of politics with hunting and fishing:

    The 2nd Amendment absolutists pretend that we have not long accepted parameters on gun ownership. We used to be reasonable about gun ownership. The point of the pro-gun hardliners seems to be being as unreasonable as possible, as a way of life. It’s weird.

    As a lifelong outdoors person, I feel it’s the Democrats who are most interested and active in tending to my core interests: habitat, wild environs, wildlife, great access to public lands, clean air, clean water. The Republicans are a more homogeneous group, and more often speak with one voice (to wit: GUNS!!!GUNS!!GUNS!!!) than the Democratic Party, which obscures who, paradoxically, actually seems motivated to do the work to ensure quality outdoor experiences as a continuing aspect of American life. The Republicans attitude toward conservations seems to be, “If you want access to quality experiences, make enough money to have access to whatever good stuff is left” — like Dick Cheney’s planted bird hunts on exclusive ranches. Even if I had the money, that counterfeit experience interests me not at all.

    I mean, dude, are you even aware that it’s the Republicans who are right now, this week, trying to stop the creation of any more national parks and monuments? Who is it who wants to see the public divest itself of so-called “government land”?

    (btw, I’m a guide who works frequently in a national park; a natural disaster followed by the shutdown 100% destroyed my shoulder season.)

  • Cee Blue

    Oh Please — anyone who would entertain a thought along the lines of Washington caring about anything except themselves needs to change their Meds.
    Noble thoughts Mr. Beasley has offered : ‘all is not lost’ — maybe — but when I read outdoor guys ranting ‘guns guns guns’ as a bad thing in a time when the 2nd Amend. is under siege – ‘no party is anti-hunting’ – what is in the water you’re fishing – does anyone read – Barry sent the federalizes to block access to parks / memorials —
    –it may not be ‘all lost’ — but unless there is a ‘real’ push back and there won’t be — just turn out the lights on your way out –
    —-fellow sportsmen -not feckless sportsmen perhaps

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