The number of Michigan deer hunters has been declining significantly as the state's deer population has risen. The decrease in hunters is causing grave concern among officials because hunting and fishing fees account for more than 90 percent of the Department of Natural Resources’ $42 million wildlife conservation budget.
The revenue from licenses is dropping due to boomers aging out and less interest in hunting by younger generations.
Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, previously said hunting and fishing license sales comprised about $83.5 million to fund wildlife restoration and protection of endangered and threatened species.
“The revenue generated from hunting licenses helps support conservation efforts carried out by the DNR, and hunting enthusiasts play a crucial role in supporting our state’s northern and rural economies,” Hoitenga said in a statement.
A 198-page report by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) showed Michigan generates $8.9 billion from hunting and $2.3 billion from fishing, creating about 171,000 jobs annually.
That $40 million revenue from hunting licenses is, by law, restricted to wildlife management and conservation.
A Michigan Technological University analysis shows the number of firearm deer-hunting licenses sold in Michigan has dropped by about 21 percent over 20 years, from 785,000 deer hunters in 1998 to 621,000 in 2017.
The report estimates that number will drop to nearly 392,500 by 2035.
Nick Green, public information officer for MUCC, told The Center Square that many people incorrectly believe that tax dollars fund conservation in Michigan.
“It’s not the case at all,” Green said. “In fact, hunters and anglers fund it through excise taxes on sporting arms and ammunition, licensing and fishing tackle, which is the main funding for conservation.”
Green said as the state loses hunters and anglers, it must find another way to fund conservation in Michigan, whether through more license sales, R3 efforts, which is a “resource-intensive” recruitment and retention program for hunters, or a tax on non-consumptive users.
“It’s very important that we partake in those endeavors, but we also have to take bites at the apple that are manageable,” Green said.
Green suggested less costly ways to attract hunters, such as inviting friends and teaching how to hunt safely. He said additional benefits of hunting include managing deer overpopulation and maintaining herd health as well as potentially reducing additional car wrecks involving deer.
Green said hunter divisiveness over the baiting ban may have hurt hunter participation.
“As conservationists, we owe it to our resources and our game for population for future generations,” Green said.
The Michigan State Police estimate about 50,000 reported vehicle-deer crashes in Michigan annually. Insurance company AAA estimated on Halloween that Michigan vehicle-deer crashes cost at least $130 million in damage annually.
Last year, 14 people were killed in crashes involving deer, with 1,335 additional injuries, according to AAA.