Monday, November 30, 2009

Shotgun stimulus: the economics of hunting

While the markets may be mulling over Black Friday returns for signs of life in the American consumer, a different sort of economic indicator makes its yearly debut today. Deer gun-hunting season opened up in Ohio this morning. Much like the first snow a ski resort, the opening week of deer season represents an influx of money into the region. Much of the money spent by hunters often ends up in rural business that may not get the benefit of other economic boosts, such as Christmas shopping rush or a federal stimulus package. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources expect about half a million hunters to spend just shy of $900 million dollars in the state during this hunting season. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that hunting as an activity generates about $76.6 billion dollars a year nationally, with a relatively high proportion of that spending going to small, rural businesses in the form of gas, supplies, food, and lodging. For instance, back in Ohio many small convenience stores in rural areas that get infrequent traffic during the remainder of the year double as sign-in stations for the hunters and benefit from their business after the hunt. The goal every year in Ohio is to attract as many out of state hunters as possible, because out-of-staters are more likely to patronize hotels and restaurants and out-of-state tags cost more for the hunter. In turn, the revenue from these tags are used by Ohio for biological conservation projects, protecting some of the very same land the hunters use every year. This process sounds suspiciously like how the multiplier effect is explained in the context of a broader economic stimulus.

However, if Black Friday returns were a little less robust than expected this year, Cross-hairs Monday could be even worse for rural Ohio. Wisconsin, whose deer gun season ended on Sunday the 29th, reported a 10% decrease in tag sales. A 10% decrease in tag sales equates to a much larger drop for the surrounding economy in reduced traffic and sales. Many hunters guessed that harsh weather had reduced the size of herd during the past winter, leading to less robust deer (which are less appealing to the hunter) and less deer overall. Weather is being blamed for slow hunting in Pennsylvania as well, but for its effects on the hunters themselves, not their quarry. Cold, rainy weather may be keeping hunters in bed, instead of outside and spending on tags, beer, and bags. Just like Black Friday sales, the rural hunting economy is tied to the quality of the product and the conditions of the day.

Hunting regulations are also an excellent example of local incentives at work. There is always a greater demand than supply for tags and permits, giving the wildlife departments great leeway and convenience in determining how best to manage their herds. For instance, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reduced the price of antler-less deer tags this year. Shooting bucks does very little to control population, which the ODNR's stated goal for the hunt. Therefore, by redirecting hunters' attentions toward does, the ODNR hopes to increase the actual number of hunters while at the same time stabilizing the deer population in the state. In Wisconsin this year, the state Department of Natural Resources decided to kill two birds with one stone. With the issuance of a small game permit, hunters in the state were licensed to shoot at will at feral pigs, deemed a pest species that carry diseases which may affect livestock. Out West in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, the debate centers around the appropriate number of tags and appropriate length of season to distribute for the recently un-endangered gray wolf. Some have speculated that, because anti-wolf sentiment runs so high among locals, the price of permits could be set extremely high and the permits would still sell out. One plan calls to set permit prices at a level to completely cover compensation costs to the farmers for livestock allegedly killed by wolves. Whatever else may be said about hunting, at a time when the whole country is undergoing a crash course in macroeconomics, the effects of and issues surrounding hunting in rural areas serve as a reminder that all economies, like politics, are truly local.

No comments: