Wildlife Watchers Vastly Outnumber Hunters in the United States

by JanineS

[The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY.]

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, the USFWS “was created in large part because of the efforts of hunters and their concern for our wildlife resources. Since the late 19th century, hunters and anglers have been the driving force behind much of the conservation that has taken place in this century, and we as a service remain committed to preserving these great outdoor traditions.”  Every five years the USFWS sponsors a survey of fishing, hunting, and wildlife-associated recreation conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The latest survey, published for 2011 summarized: 37.4 million U.S. residents 16 years and older went fishing and/or hunting, including 33.1 million who fished and 13.7 who hunted—9.4 million both fished and hunted. Hunters spent $33.7 billion on items such as equipment, food, lodging, and licenses. There were 71.8 million wildlife-watchers age 16 and older in 2011, spending $54.9 billion on equipment, trips, and related items.

In spite of this disparity, the USFWS remains committed to providing optimum hunting opportunities to this minority of citizens. Recognizing “the importance to promote and preserve America’s hunting heritage for future generations”, it created The Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, which “advises and works with” the Departments of Interior and Agriculture and forms partnerships with the public, the sporting industry, Native tribes, and other parties, thus keeping the cult of hunting entrenched in American culture.

Hunting is permitted, actually encouraged and promoted, in 300 of the 560 National Wildlife Refuges throughout the U.S. In 1997 President Bill Clinton signed the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act which designated hunting and fishing as “priority public uses” on refuge lands. Even though hunters pay federal excise taxes on their guns & ammo and other equipment directed towards “conservation” plus paying for Duck Stamps, proceeds of which allegedly go towards protecting waterfowl, there is some dispute about how much hunters actually pay for wildlife and the lands on which they live.

Hunting in New York State

Activities in New York by Residents


Days of fishing—29,874,000
Total expenditures–$1,962,538,000.00


Days of hunting—18,433,000
Total expenditures—$1,564,205,000.00

Wildlife Watching (includes observing, photographing, or feeding wildlife):

Total participants—4,239,000
Days of participating away from home—22,814,000
Total expenditures–$4,151,790,000.00

Percent of Total Participants by Activity (Total 5.5 million)

Wildlife Watching—77%
Read the entire report here.

In spite of the low percentage of hunters and anglers in New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation, composed of hunters and anglers, remains committed to improving opportunities for this vocal minority. Governor Cuomo proudly states he “has taken innovative steps to enhance N.Y.’s rich fishing and hunting traditions by making licenses cheaper and easier to get, legalizing crossbow hunting, restoring fish hatcheries, and opening up new fishing and hunting access.” In 2014 he opened up 380,000 acres of state-owned land to hunters, anglers, and (even) wildlife-watchers. He intends to commit $8 million to open up more state-owned land for these activities in 2015 (see 2015 State of the State).

Had enough? Some folks in New Jersey came up with a great idea—a Non-Hunting License. Frustrated with the political stranglehold hunters and their cronies have over the N.J. Division of Fish & Wildlife, the Animal Protection League of New Jersey created a Non-Hunting License. The laminated license costs $20.00 and features a drawing of a deer, goose, and bear and states: “Official New Jersey Non-Hunting License – Pledge: License holder supports peaceful co-existence with all wildlife and the creation of a non-violent wildlife council. License is valid for all New Jersey wildlife.”

They have the right idea. Whether one of our many state’s animal rights organizations takes on the idea of a license for non-hunters or not, “we”—meaning the non-hunting public—must begin to insist on a voice for wildlife in New York, and in the U.S., for that matter. For too long the vocal minority has had the upper hand in control of policies concerning wildlife, and it has proven to be disastrous. As Cleveland Amory wrote over 40 years ago in his landmark Mankind?,

Fish and Game departments must be reconstituted, so that the nonhunter may be not only represented, but represented in the proportion that his numbers warrant. State conservation and natural-resources commissions too must be totally reorganized. They have no business in the promotion of this billion-dollar butchery…

If the National Rifle Association insists to the very end that the slaughter of animals is basic to its cause concerning the right to bear arms, then that cause, or the organization, or both, must go. Somehow, we believe the country will survive the privation.

He concluded:

The hour is late and the animals’ need is great. It is past high time for all of us to be a voice for the voiceless, to speak for those who can’t, to work together for the most oppressed minority of them all.

I hope it’s not too late.

I can be reached at info@animalswny.org.