Outdoor recreation industry can learn from sportsmen
We hunt and fish in our family. Our daughter was able to cast a fly rod, catch a fish and return it gently to the river by the age of six.
Both of our kids have been taught to safely handle guns and we have a freezer full of elk that gets us through the year until the next hunting season. Our son will soon attend a hunter safety course and our daughter will as well when she’s old enough. We buy tags and licenses and have plenty of hunting and fishing equipment mixed in with our mountain bikes and ski gear.
All of this means that our family contributes heavily to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department and other wildlife conservation efforts through organizations such as Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited.
One hundred percent of the revenue from tags and licenses goes to CPW to fund land and wildlife conservation. One hundred percent of the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition goes towards wildlife management programs, resulting in the healthy return of many species that were previously on the brink of extinction. It’s a user-pay, user-benefit model that makes up more than 80 percent of CPW’s annual $212 million budget. As costs to CPW have risen, its revenue through tags and licenses has remained stagnant. The cost of a fishing or hunting license hasn’t increased since 2005.
As a result, this past year, CPW held a series of town hall meetings to discuss a possible increase in tags and licenses. Hunters and anglers recognize the importance of CPW’s conservation efforts and the value of their own outdoor experiences through hunting and fishing and voiced support for the proposed increase.
So when our own Sen. Ray Scott recently announced his proposal to tax bicycles, I couldn’t help but recognize what a great opportunity this was to have the user-pay, user-benefit discussion as it applies to the larger outdoor recreation community.
Let me start out by saying that I believe Scott’s proposal is misguided for all kinds of reasons — we already have a sales tax on bikes, a person on a bike is one less car on the road, and my own concerns about the message it sends when so many in our community are trying to grow our outdoor recreation industry as an economic driver.
However, why can’t we look at the sportsman’s model and figure out how it could be applied on a broader scale to outdoor recreation? It’s a discussion worth having, especially when so many of our public lands are being loved to death and our state population is on the rise.
There’s a philosophy that a resource held in common but owned by no one is overused by all. One only has to look at Conundrum Hot Springs and Hanging Lake to find examples of that in action. Both are free to the public and treated as such. When hunters and anglers purchase licenses and tags, they are “buying in” to those industries and the conservation efforts that keep those industries healthy. They feel ownership of the land and water and as a result, treat them as such. And to be clear, I’m not necessarily proposing a pay-to-play model on our public lands although that’s already been done to a certain extent. When certain sections of rivers became overused, the BLM and national parks enacted a permitting system to manage that use. What I’m proposing is that we have a conversation — a healthy, respectful conversation about ways in which the outdoor recreation industry can learn from our sportsmen.
Earlier this year, when president Trump ordered a review of our national monuments and parks, we witnessed a rare moment where conservatives and liberals actually fell on the same side of an issue. Most people, regardless of their political affiliation, support the preservation of our public lands.
When Gov. John Hickenlooper came to speak on Main Street in downtown Grand Junction on the first-ever Public Lands Day, it was a mixed crowd of tree huggers and sportsmen and everybody got along swimmingly. When Trump unveiled deep cuts to the Department of the Interior’s budget directly affecting the management of public lands, groups such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers voiced opposition to the cuts. Nothing has raised hackles more in sportsmen organizations more than the threat of transferring federal lands to the states.
So I can’t think of a better time to start this conversation. So many of us live here because of our public lands and support conservation efforts to protect our wildlife populations and the land that sustains them. But those lands are a blessing and a curse. A blessing to those of us use them every day. A curse because the beauty of our lands will continue to draw more people here to use them. It’s time to figure out how to take a proven model that works in our hunting and fishing communities and extend that to the larger outdoor recreation community.