Outdoor Economics

Andrew Smeltz
September 01, 1999

Some of my earliest memories are of watching my father leave for deer camp the Sunday after Thanksgiving. My grandmother would send home-made pies and tins of potato chips with him. When he came home I'd see pictures of men standing in front of the meat pole in their wool jackets, dark stubble on their jaws. Some years my father would have a deer, some years he wouldn't.

By 1907 my great-great-grandfather, Peter E. Hershey, had been hunting deer in Centre County, Pennsylvania, for three years. He rode the train from Coatesville in Chester County to Linden Hall. On the train in 1907, Grandfather met two other men headed for the woods, one was a Herr and the other a Hagy. They all went to the McCullough farm and hired Robert McCullough to haul their gear back into the mountains by horse and wagon. The men walked. Those first years they camped in a canvas tent. In 1923 they built a cabin. Seventy-six years later, our families still hunt out of the same cabin.

Hunting camps like ours dot the ridges and valleys of Pennsylvania. The state practically shuts down for the first day of buck. Schools close. Hunters take off work and leave home for a week. Diners run breakfast specials at four or five in the morning—and then do it again in April when trout season opens.

man stands in water and fishes
Gerald Lang and Jennifer Tucker, Digital Photography Studio

The peace of Pennsylvania's fields and streams — its clear water and quiet places — are a resource valued at $7.1 billion a year.

Fields and hedgerows, woodlots, streams, creeks, swamps, bogs, any place that holds wild things is also a refuge for Pennsylvania's outdoorsmen and women. The state sells over a million hunting licenses and some 976,000 licenses to fish; 53 percent of the hunters buy both.

How do these pastimes affect Pennsylvania's economy? In 1995 the Pennsylvania state legislature asked Dick Shafer to find out. "They wanted to know just how much our hunting, fishing, and trapping resources were worth," says Shafer, a professor of environmental management at Penn State, "and what the annual impact from the use of those resources was on the Commonwealth's economy.

According to Shafer's calculations, Pennsylvania's woods and streams are worth a lot. As he reported to a rare joint meeting of the state legislature's Game and Fisheries Committee and its Tourism and Recreational Development Committee in Harrisburg last March, "The total annual economic value of Pennsylvania's hunting, fishing, and trapping resources in 1997 came to $7.1 billion," Shafer said. "That's equal to six Trident submarines." The impact of these activities on the state's economy was even higher: "$9.6 billion—that's more than half of Pennsylvania's total state budget in 1997."

These "staggering" figures (as Rep. Bruce Smith, chairman of the Game and Fisheries Committee described them) are the result of a three-year study sponsored by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan legislative agency created in 1987 to promote Pennsylvania's rural and small communities. Shafer led an eight-member research team with specializations ranging from biology to economics to policy analysis. Pulling every 70th name and address from the files of the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission, they sent out 33,243 surveys—many more than was necessary for a random sample, in hopes of catching hunters and anglers just after they had come home from a hunting or fishing trip.

Shafer and his team received 4,285 usable responses. Hunters from all 67 counties in Pennsylvania responded; anglers represented 64 counties and fur-takers 66 counties. Many of them (45 percent of the hunters, 20 percent of the anglers, and 41 percent of the fur-takers) owned land in rural areas.

They also spent a lot of time outdoors. Shafer's sample of 2,621 hunters took 17,654 hunting trips in the survey year, with most hunters taking at least five trips. Translated to the number of total licensed hunters in the state, that's 7.61 million hunting trips per year. Yet hunters also took trips outside of hunting season just to watch birds (50 percent of the time) or large mammals (30 percent). Scaled up, that's another 3.39 million trips. The 987 anglers were outside even more often. They took 12,185 fishing trips, with most individuals taking six trips in the year, for an estimate of 13.4 million fishing trips for the total licensed fishing population. And anglers went birdwatching and scouting for wildlife too: add another 5.64 million trips.

All of these hunting and fishing trips, as well as the activities of fur-takers (which were tallied differently) represent a sizable investment. Shafer's group looked at it two ways, in terms of the economic impact on the state's economy and the economic value of the resource—the woods and streams and wildlife. "The economic value of a resource is a non-business-oriented measure," Shafer explains. "It estimates the value people receive from an activity involving that resource.

Economic impact, on the other hand, addresses the business and financial dollars resulting from the use of the resource." Economic impact begins with a purchase. Say that an angler buys a new rod and reel at a streamside shop. Some of the money from the angler's purchase goes to the shop owners and their employees. Some of the money goes to the rod manufacturer and their employees. The employees in turn spend their wages. From the angler's purchase of a new rod and reel to the purchases made by the employees of the shop and the rod manufacturer—these are economic impacts.

To calculate the impact of hunting, fishing, and trapping on Pennsylvania's economy, the researchers used a computer model called IMPLAN, or Impact Analysis for Planning. IMPLAN was developed in the 1980s by the U.S. Forest Service, with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Bureau of Land Management. It uses data from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis to construct tables that show the change in the regional economy caused by a change in one activity, such as fishing. The model found the economic impact of hunting to be about $4.8 billion, fishing $4.7 billion, and fur-taking $19 million. It also found that more than 88,000 jobs in Pennsylvania were associated with these activities.

The second figure, economic value, is harder to estimate. Laws of supply and demand don't apply to wildlife-related activities on public lands. Nor is the "product" of hunting, fishing, or trapping just the amount of time spent, but the entire experience. Shafer and his team chose to define economic value in terms of the average consumer's surplus, "the real income retained by an average hunter, angler, or trapper in his or her wallet," Shafer explains. "In other words, the money he or she would have spent rather than not go out at all.

"If hunting in this state was in a free market economy, for instance, the cost to hunt would be much higher than it is now," Shafer adds. "At a private hunting preserve, you could pay $800 to $1,000 a day to hunt. People want to look at hunting and fishing as if it's a free market situation, but it's not. Hunters and anglers get far more dollar value than what they spend to enjoy their sport."

To calculate the consumer surplus, Shafer and his team used the Travel Cost Method developed by economists to calculate the value of an activity based on the observed market behavior of a sample of participants. Taking the participants' out-of-pocket expenses per trip and plotting that against the number of trips, Shafer estimated the average consumer's surplus value for hunting was $447 per person; for fishing it was $279. Statewide, Shafer says, "The whopping savings to hunters and anglers is $3.7 billion—or almost three times their out-of-pocket." (Fur-takers didn't do so well, actually spending a little more than the resource's value of $3.6 million.)

Taken together, these figures give a total economic value of $7.1 billion for Pennsylvania's woods and streams. Include the trips devoted to birdwatching or scouting for wildlife by members of the hunters', anglers', and fur-takers' households and the value increases by an additional $860 million.

That's still a low estimate. Shafer's study was not designed to account for others who value the outdoors, such as backpackers, mountain bikers, edible plant gatherers, birdwatchers and wildlife viewers who don't hunt or fish, eco-tourists, canoeists and kayakers, horseback riders, rock climbers, picnickers, spelunkers, and cross-country skiers. Nor, he agrees, can an economic study recognize that the natural world has values different from those of the world market. How do you estimate the aesthetic value of a vista, or of the honking of Canada geese flying south? How do you gauge the value of a way of life? Economics has no place on a small mountain stream that holds wild brook trout, or in woodlots and hedgerows that provide cover for pheasants or deer. But the fate of these places is not decided out under the trees. Shafer hopes his numbers will give lawmakers and businesspeople another reason to protect our outdoors.

E. L. Dick Shafer, Ph.D., is professor of environmental management in the College of Health and Human Development, 215 Mateer Bldg., University Park, PA 16802; 814-865-7128; Shafe@psu.edu. This study was funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Additional reporting by Nancy Marie Brown.

Last Updated September 01, 1999