Idaho continues to take a hit in its sales of nonresident hunting and fishing licenses, leading the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to start its first-ever marketing program directed at outdoor enthusiasts in other states.
The purchase of licenses and tags began dropping around 2008, coinciding with the national economic collapse.
According to IDFG records, nonresident hunting and fishing license sales dropped 13 percent from 2007 to 2011 from 200,186 to 174,729. Hunting tag sales fell about 26 percent, from 39,315 tags sold in 2007 to 28,832 in 2011.
Losing nonresident participation is expensive.
Nonresidents spend more money in Idaho when taking hunting or fishing trips because they generally spend more on food, shelter and other travel than residents who can venture to a river or forest in the same day, said Michael Pearson, bureau chief of the IDFG administrative office.
Nonresidents’ tags are also more expensive. In some cases, nonresidents end up spending more than tenfold what a resident would. Hunting sheep for example, costs residents about $185 in 2012 including a license, tag and vendor fees, according to an IDFG survey. A nonresident would pay about $2,271.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation report, issued every five years, estimated that fishing and hunting expenditures in Idaho for 2011 were about $1.16 billion. That includes travel, equipment purchases and all other associated costs with an outdoor trip. Trip-related costs totaled more than half that amount at $546 million.
The survey did not differentiate between in-state and out-of-state anglers and hunters.
The other problem is for the IDFG itself. Because nonresident licenses cost several times more than resident licenses, a drop in nonresident sales has a bigger impact on the agency’s budget than a drop in resident sales.
“It takes a lot of residents to make up for a non-resident tag,” Pearson said.
The Fish and Wildlife survey showed that in the last five years, the number of anglers in the United States increased by 11 percent. The number of hunters increased by 9 percent. This is also true in Idaho, where resident licenses have steadily increased each year, even after the recession hit, according to IDFG records.
Vicky Obsorn, an IDFG employee who has headed up its new marketing efforts, said the agency decided it needed to try a more aggressive approach in regaining nonresident sales numbers.
The department had previously marketed a relatively small program, the Super Hunt, which gives 32 tags per year for participation in any open hunt in the state for deer, elk, pronghorn or moose. But no advertising has ever been done for general hunting and fishing purposes.
Osborn said the IFGD is focused on regaining former license purchasers.
“We would want to reach people who do know what it’s like to hunt here in Idaho, but have for whatever reason lapsed,” she said.
Pearson said the department has not received any appropriations from the Legislature to develop the $50,000 marketing program. Instead, the administration shaved discretionary funds off travel, office supplies and a few other categories to scrounge up the cash, he said.
Ads have been placed on outdoor recreation websites and in periodicals like California Sportsman, he said. For the first several months leading to fall, the ads tried to recruit hunters with its “I hunt Idaho” slogan. As fall approached, it switched over to promote the steelhead fishing that is prevalent in October and November.
In the first year of the marketing effort, 2011, the IDFG saw an increase of about $370,000 in sales for deer hunting tags above the year’s projections. For elk, it saw a $250,000 increase over the projections, Pearson said.
Still, IDFG officials cautioned that they didn’t know for sure if the increases over projections were caused by the marketing efforts.
“We we just can’t tell,” Pearson said. “We are biologists, we are accountants and things like that, we are not marketing people by training.”
Other entities in the state have always marketed Idaho’s outdoors, including private companies, nonprofits, and the Idaho Department of Commerce’s Tourism Division. But very few efforts have focused solely on hunting and fishing.
Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association executive director Grant Simonds said his organization has always supplemented private guide and outfitter advertising budgets with grants of about $50,000 from the Tourism Division, but that they try and get people into guided trips, not just advocate for them to come to Idaho.
“That’s what we’re promoting, is our industry. If the self-guided trips come to Idaho based on our marketing, then so be it. The more the merrier,” Simonds said.
Local chambers of commerce and tourism-reliant business constantly advertise Idaho’s outdoor life, but generally as part of a package that includes other outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and mountain biking.
Karen Ballard, director of the Tourism Division, said the state will often pay for some travel writers to gather for “familiarity” trips, where they briefly get to experience Idaho hunting and fishing trips to write about and, hopefully, entice their readership to come to Idaho.
No matter what industry they are advocating for in tourism, including convention business, the selling point is always the outdoor opportunities in Idaho, she said. Hunting and fishing are not excluded, she said.
“That is what we market,” Ballard said.