Congratulations to the Colorado Wildlife Council (CWC) for getting it right.
Wish that I could say the same about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
The CWC has produced a simple, but brilliant educational campaign, explaining that anglers and hunters benefit everyone who enjoys nature.
“Colorado sportsmen contribute more than 80 cents on every dollar spent on wildlife management. So if you love protecting Colorado and its natural beauty, hug a hunter,” it says at the home page of Hug a Hunter (hugahunter.com), which features a hiker embracing a hunter.
On another page, a biker squeezes a fisherman, above the message: “The revenues from hunting and fishing licenses are the primary way our state funds the protection and management of wildlife. So if you love Colorado, hug an angler.”
Additionally, the CWC explains that sportsmen have helped provide 21,000 jobs in the state, with fishing and hunting generating $1.8 billion in income annually.
CWC could have added that anglers and hunters in Colorado --- and nationwide --- additionally contribute to fisheries and wildlife management through the excise taxes that they pay on firearms, ammunition, fishing gear, and motorboat fuel. That money returns to the states at a 3-to-1 match through Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) programs administered by the FWS.
Since the Wildlife Restoration program began in 1937, the states have received more than $12 billion for access sites, boater and hunter safety education, and restoration and management of fisheries and wildlife.
But CWC still conveys the important message: anglers and hunters fund programs that benefit everyone, as well as fuel an important economic engine. For example, fishing and hunting are second only to the skiing industry in Colorado in terms of revenue.
Meanwhile, FWS has missed the mark with its website and campaign celebrating the 75th anniversary of these programs, also known as Pittman Robertson (hunting) and Wallop-Breaux (fishing).
Yes, it does credit sportsmen for their enormous contributions. “Take pride,” it says. “It’s your nature.”
That’s a clever line. And it’s assessment under that play on words is spot on: “You’ve contributed to a remarkable conservation effort.”
But, alas, FWS doesn’t seem to recognize the importance of warmwater fishermen --- especially bass anglers --- to the success of Sport Fish Restoration (SFR). Common sense dictates that, if it did, it would certainly want that constituency to know about related fisheries projects financed with their contributions.
Yet in its “success stories” it offers woefully little evidence that bass and other warmwater fisheries have benefited.
According to its own statistics, 30 million people ages 16 and older fish. Twenty-five million of them fish freshwater outside the Great Lakes, with 10 million targeting bass, 7.5 million panfish, and 7 million catfish.
But FWS’s four highlighted examples of how WSFR money has been used include a coldwater hatchery, aquatic education, elk restoration, and moose research. Likewise, a search within the eight regions shows little in the way of warmwater fishing.
Tom Champeau, Florida’s freshwater fisheries chief, kindly suggests that his and other states might not be providing the necessary information about warmwater projects for FWS to publicize
No question exists, though, that SFR is vitally important, he adds. “It helped us build the Bass Conservation Center. It helps us with boat ramps, with hatcheries, and with research.
“That $12 million that we receive each year goes a long way, and we would be severely impacted without it. And all states are benefiting in similar ways.”
Champeau adds that those who do not fish profit from the program. “Folks launch a boat from an access site (built with WFR money) for wildlife viewing. People have picnics.”
As does the Hug a Hunter campaign, the fisheries chief also points out that local economies benefit from WSFR money funneled into fisheries and wildlife management. “If you are at a hotel and see a lake down the road, you might not realize it but the anglers who fish there stay at that same hotel too,” he says.
And Noreen Clough, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director, summarizes this way:
“If we are managing for deer and bass, we are managing natural resources, and that contributes to clean water, clean air, and healthy lifestyles.
“Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration is not just a user pays, user benefits program. It is a user pays, public benefits program.”
Still, it would be nice if FWS acknowledged the contributions of bass and other warmwater anglers with “success stories” that reflect their importance to WSFR.
(Published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)