The Spokesman-Review reports that weather, wolves, politics, and the economy are depressing the number of out-of-state hunters who would normally be flocking to the two states. Nonresidents pay up to 15 times more than residents for the privilege to hunt big game. Hardest hit are rural towns where nonresident hunters book motel rooms, eat at restaurants and support numerous other businesses.
But losses are huge in state license revenue alone.
The Idaho Fish and Game Department watched $3.5 million in license revenue vaporize last year because it could not sell all of its allotted nonresident deer and elk tags. That amounted to a 4.5 percent drop in the department’s $77 million annual budget, which is funded almost entirely by hunting and fishing license fees. Idaho’s sales of nonresident deer and elk tags have steadily declined each year since 2008.
The trend apparently hasn’t bottomed out. Last year, sales of nonresident Idaho deer tags were down 22 percent from 2010 and elk tag sales were down 23 percent. The number of tags sold this year is down about 18 percent from August 2011.
Montana is hurting, too. For the second time in 30 years, the state has a surplus of nonresident big-game combo license tags that used to sell out by mid-March.
Some of the factors that have led to the decline include the recent recession, a harsh winter weather that hammered Idaho elk herds as well as Montana deer and antelope, and rumors spreading through hunting communities that growing numbers of wolves were ravaging deer and elk populations. Politics also played a role as Idaho lawmakers and Montana voters raised nonresident hunting fees. In 2009, Idaho lawmakers raised nonresident deer tags from $259 to $302 and bumped the elk tag from $373 to $417. (AP)