April 26, 2020
By Brian Lynn
Note: Brian Lynn is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Sportsmen’s Alliance
As the world deals with the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, social distancing, unheard of just two months ago, has become the norm in the U.S., and almost every other country—often carrying the weight of law. The tactic would seem to align perfectly with hunting, as bear and turkey hunters want to be as far away from other people as possible when pursuing their prey.
But just as those seasons were set to open, many state fish and game agencies suspended non-resident permit sales or even seasons.
While we deal with the initial impact of the virus now, the world will undoubtedly feel its economic effects for years. The North American Model of Conservation and local communities are no exception, and the impact to global conservation has taken a hit as tourists and big-game hunters have been forced to stop traveling during the pandemic.
Africa and Russia have both seen a surge in poaching. In Russia, warming spring temps and the onset of some hunting seasons has pushed more people to get outside, especially in remote towns and the countryside. One group says that people are shooting every animal they encounter in response to the pandemic, but the claim hasn’t been verified by any other organizations.
Tourist and big-game hunting hotspots in Africa have felt a compounding effect from the pandemic. In countries such as South Africa, Tanzania and Botswana, the dearth of tourists and hunters has given poachers free reign in the bush, and now they’re making their way into areas usually teeming with visitors.
The lack of foreign tourists, scientists and hunters reduces the number of eyes and travelers in vast expanses of parks and private reserves. On top of that, conservation and anti-poaching efforts are directly tied to tourism dollars and hunting permit fees. The loss of those dollars means skeleton crews patrol the now-empty areas searching out wildlife bandits seeking to game for lucrative overseas trafficking, sustenance hunting or the bush-meat trade. It’s a cascading effect that could destroy some species in certain areas for years if international borders remain closed.
Likewise, the economic impact in North America could reverberate through states when it comes to the disbursement of Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson funding for conservation.
In the face of the pandemic, several states made decisions regarding hunting, including Alaska, which closed all hunting for black and grizzly bears, but then reversed the decision within a day after backlash from resident hunters, who would be the only ones allowed to hunt. Washington state suspended both turkey and bear seasons across the board until May, and likely longer. Nebraska and Idaho suspended permit sales to non-residents. Even in states like Oregon and Montana, where seasons weren’t immediately impacted, closures of state lands, campgrounds and the like will make access and hunting camps difficult. The situations in states changed daily and left many with questions, and out-of-state trips up in the air.
The confusion and impact isn’t limited to hunters, however. Rural communities dependent upon motel, restaurant, gas station and sporting goods store transactions will feel the pinch immediately; some might not survive. States will feel a slight impact. License sales and excise taxes on hunting and fishing-related gear fund the North American Model of Conservation, with state license sales playing into the monetary distribution equation.
While suspended seasons for turkey, bear and, in some states, even fishing, will undoubtedly have an impact, at this point it’s likely one that’s minimal. The number of bear and turkey hunters compared to deer, which is undeniably the bread-and-butter species when it comes to license sales, is small; the impact shouldn’t hit budgets too hard, unless the virus and lockdowns continue into fall or resume with a seasonal recurrence. If that happens, state budgets, most of which are usually tight to begin with, could fall short of their ability to match a percentage of federal disbursement from the two conservation acts, which would then have a huge impact on the ability of those states to fund initiatives and enhance habitats.
Perhaps forgotten in all of this, is the impact the virus and economic fallout will have on non-profits. As disposable income diminishes, so does charitable giving. That means habitat and advocacy organizations suffer and can’t fund as many habitat projects or, as is the case with Sportsmen’s Alliance, engage animal-rights and anti-gun zealots and organizations head-on in lobbying efforts at the state level. Eventually, a virus that started with a bat in Wuhan, China, could ultimately infect and undermines wildlife, wildlife management and sportsmen’s rights across North America.
About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense possible. Sportsmen’s Alliance: Online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.