2006 survey gauges Americans’ outdoor participation, expenditures

America’s passion for wildlife and the outdoors continues to be a major engine of the nation’s economy, according to a preliminary survey released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

In 2006, more than 87 million Americans age 16 and older hunted, fished, or observed wildlife. They spent $120 billion that year pursuing those activities -- an amount roughly equal to America's total spending on all spectator sports, casinos, motion pictures, golf courses, amusement parks, and arcades combined.

“This survey shows in real economic and participatory terms the impact that wildlife has on the nation’s economy, but simply talking about dollars and cents doesn’t capture the whole picture,” said H. Dale Hall, USFWS director. “Wildlife-related recreation rejuvenates our spirit and gets us outside pursuing healthy activities. Americans should be proud that the outdoor tradition continues to be such a prevalent part of our lives.”

Preliminary data from the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reveal that, of all Americans age 16 or older, 30 million fished and spent $41 billion on their activities; 12.5 million hunted and spent $23 billion; and 71 million observed wildlife and spent $45 billion.

The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation has been conducted every five years since 1955 and is considered to be the definitive source of information concerning participation and expenditures associated with hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching nationwide. The survey is conducted at the request of state fish and wildlife agencies and is funded by grants from the Multistate Conservation Grant Program. A wide range of individuals and groups depend on the survey to analyze participation rates, economic impacts of expenditures, demographic characteristics, and trends in participation and activities.

“This expenditure of $120 billion highlights the benefits of these activities to national and state economies,” said survey economist Jerry Leonard. “It is roughly equivalent to $1 out of every $100 of goods and services produced in our economy. And much of this activity occurs in places that rely significantly on wildlife-related recreation expenditures for their economic well being.”

After losing ground in the early 1990s, wildlife-related activities, including bird watching and photography, increased 13 percent over the last decade. About 63 million Americans observed wildlife in 1996; 66.1 million did so in 2001, and 71.1 million in 2006. Wildlife watchers spending increased 19 percent, from $37.5 billion in 1996 to $43.7 billion in 2001 to $44.7 billion last year.

The preliminary data shows decreases in both angling and hunting participation from 1996 to 2006. About 35 million Americans fished in 1996, compared to 34 million in 2001 and 30 million in 2006, representing a 15 percent decline in participation in that ten-year span. Anglers spent $40.6 billion last year, which is similar to 2001 but 16 percent lower than 1996. While overall spending -- including trips, fishing equipment, special equipment, and other related items -- was flat from 2001 to 2006, spending on fishing equipment such as rods and reels and travel-related items such as food and lodging were up.

There was a 10 percent decline in hunting participation from 1996 to 2006. Approximately 14 million Americans hunted in 1996, compared to 13 million in 2001 and 12.5 million in 2006. Hunters spent $22.7 billion last year, 3 percent lower than 2001 and 14 percent lower than 1996. Similar to fishing, while overall spending was down, expenditures on hunting equipment such as rifles and ammunition were up 3 percent since 2001.

It is important to note that the National Survey is a snapshot for the specific year in which it is conducted and does not necessarily represent the total number of anglers, hunters, and wildlife watchers in the U.S. because they do not consistently participate every year. For example, examination of survey data shows that over the five-year period from 2002 to 2006, cumulatively more than 44.4 million fished and 18.6 million hunted. However, this information serves as a valuable tool to gauge general trends in the participation of Americans in wildlife-related activities and associated expenditures.

A complete survey, including individual state statistics, will be available later in the year.