Stop by Heart of Missouri Agri Service in Fayette almost any day of the year, and among the farmers buying fertilizer and livestock feed you also are likely to find someone buying something for wildlife.
Three thousand pounds of sunfl ower seed and 600 pounds of black thistle seed cross the loading dock each month during the winter. In the spring and summer, it's thousands of pounds of wildlife food plot seed mix, mostly for quail. In the fall, tons of shelled corn goes out the door monthly to feed deer.
In all, Manager Ryan McDowell estimates these and other wildliferelated items make up 8 percent of his trade, and sales are increasing.
“It used to be a pretty low amount,” McDowell said. “Truthfully, it was sort of a hassle. But over time I realized this is something we can really make money on. There are a lot of people buying 20 or 30 acres, and they're not so much interested in raising farm-type products. They're more interested in raising wildlife.”
Mike Wyss, whose family owns the Russellville Locker and Feed Plant west of Jefferson City, does a thriving business slaughtering domestic livestock. But for a few weeks each fall, normal business stops.
During the November firearms deer season, Wyss hires six to eight extra workers to process hunters' deer. By the time the antlerless portion of deer season ends in mid-December, they have processed about a thousand deer. That is 20 to 25 percent of his total business for the year.
“Deer became a big part of our business about 20 years ago,” says Wyss. “We were fortunate. Starting in the late 1980s our beef and pork business shut down. For some packers then, deer made up 60 to 70 percent of their gross. You have to take advantage of that. It was a long time between Novembers.”
McDowell's and Wyss' experiences represent the tip of an economic iceberg. Since Missourians began investing in science-based conservation 70 years ago, forests, fish and wildlife have become important economic engines for the Show-Me State.
The phenomenon caught my attention a couple of years ago when the National Wild Turkey Federation announced state-by-state turkey harvest figures. Missouri topped the list by a wide margin. It made me wonder how many hunters were coming here to take advantage of the nation's best turkey hunting.
I discovered that from 1980 to 2003 nonresident turkey permit sales increased by more than 500 percent. Last year, 10,124 nonresidents spent $1.44 million on Missouri spring turkey hunting permits.
Sales of turkey and other nonresident permits funnel nearly $8 million into Missouri annually. That is a good thing all by itself, but much more significant is what happens after visitors buy permits. They rent hotel rooms, hire guides, visit restaurants and auto mechanics and buy gasoline, groceries, beverages, ammunition, fishing gear and a host of other items.
For example, Missouri's 13,000-plus nonresident deer hunters spend about $139 per day in our state for a total economic boost of more than $57 million.
“Conservation is great, but what has the Conservation Department done for me lately?” you may ask. Here are a few of the services you get for your conservation dollar:
- Curriculum material helps public and private schools and home schoolers meet state math, English and science requirements.
- Naturalists bring conservation messages to schools.
- Education consultants offer workshops to help teachers enrich students' class time.
- Private Land Services Division offers landowners expertise in managing forests, fish ponds or wildlife habitat on their property.
- Cost-share programs help landowners affordably put conservation theory into practice.
- The state forest nursery provides approximately 6 million tree and shrub seedlings for conservation plantings every year.
- Wildlife damage biologists are ready to help when you have trouble with squirrels in the attic or a bear in the back yard.
- Missouri Conservationist magazine is free to adult Missouri residents, keeping them informed about agency activities.
As I explored the tremendous wealth that wild resources generate, I discovered more and more ways that conservation benefits Missouri economically. I started putting notes about the economic benefits of conservation in a folder I labeled “Consernomics.” The folder is now about two inches thick. Few weeks go by that I don't add a few pages.
If you ever wonder what you get for the penny of conservation sales tax you pay on every $8 of taxable goods you buy in Missouri, consider the following facts from the “Consernomics” folder.
Among the most obvious benefits of conservation are millions of fish produced at state hatcheries, abundant game and hundreds of conservation areas where you can enjoy hunting, fishing, trapping, birdwatching, nature photography, hiking, camping, canoeing, mushroom hunting and just being outdoors.
The value of all this conservation-based recreation is elusive. How do you put a dollar value on hours spent outdoors with family or friends? One way is to ask participants how much they would spend.
Deer hunters said they would pay about $16.27 per day on their sport. Multiply that by the 3.6 million days of deer hunting in Missouri annually, and you discover that just the experience of deer hunting is worth more than $58 million.
Another way of assigning a dollar value to outdoor fun is to look at how much people are willing to spend on the goods and services necessary to pursue it. Surveys conducted for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2001 showed the average angler in Missouri spends $635 per year on fishing. Hunters spend $895 per year, and wildlife watchers spend about $434 per person on their activities. The combined value of all this wildlife-related retail spending is approximately $1.6 billion annually.
My favorite direct benefit from conservation is the food it puts on my table. Hunters harvested 309,893 deer in 2004. The average deer yields about 60 pounds of venison, which translates to about 18.6 million pounds. If you compared the venison to high quality beef cuts, which average about $7 a pound, the value of Missouri's deer harvest is approximately $130 million annually.
Similar calculations could be made for the 72,000 turkeys and millions of rabbits, squirrels, quail, pheasant, doves, ducks, geese, frogs, bass, trout, bluegills and other fish taken by Missourians each year. How much more would we spend on groceries if all that food didn't arrive on our tables as a bonus of outdoor recreation?
An increasing number of deer hunters are donating venison to the needy through the Share the Harvest program, more than 137 tons last year. That cuts the cost of state and federal social assistance programs.
Food isn't the only natural commodity produced by conservation. Consider the state's public and private forests. Missouri produces about 140 million cubic feet of timber annually, mostly from private land. Yet, with help from Conservation Department foresters and the George O. White State Forest Nursery, Missouri's forested acreage continues to increase. Wood-based industries contribute about $4.4 billion a year to Missouri's economy.
Not all the economic benefits of conservation are as obvious as trees, venison and recreation. One of the biggest returns on conservation expenditures is employment.
Hunting and fishing support more than 21,000 Missouri jobs with salaries and wages totaling $531 million. The Fish and Wildlife Service survey showed that wildlife watching supports 7,850 Missouri jobs that provide earnings of $200 million. Missourians spend approximately $70 million annually on birdseed. This money fuels Missouri's farm economy, supports retail businesses and creates jobs.
Our forest products industry sustains 2,600 businesses, from loggers and sawmills to flooring and furniture manufacturers. These businesses employ 32,250 Missourians with $1.1. billion in yearly wages.
Missouri's one-eighth of 1 percent conservation sales tax enables the Conservation Department to maintain more than 1,000 public areas. Every county in the state has conservation areas. Hunting and fishing are the most common activities at conservation areas, but many also have hiking trails, wildlife viewing blinds, covered fishing docks, boat ramps and handicapped-accessible facilities.
Conservation nature centers bring educational programs to urban areas. Wetland areas ensure the survival of millions of migratory waterfowl, and an extensive system of natural areas preserves the best examples of natural communities from prairies and glades to swamps and caves.
Missouri has 1.2 million anglers and hosts more than 1,800 fishing tournaments annually. Where do all those anglers go?
Lots of them go to the 10,000-plus acres of lakes and ponds on conservation areas. Others find fishing bliss at community lakes and other impoundments under Conservation Department management. These total 7,000 acres.
They can find tens of thousands more fishable acres at more than a dozen major reservoirs where fishing is supported by Conservation Department fish hatcheries and management. They also have free access to 1,078 miles of river and stream frontage on conservation lands.
Retail sales and jobs are important, but the full effect of wildlife-related activities in Missouri is much bigger. Sawmill workers, bait shop owners and hunting guides spend their pay on other goods and services, and this money continues to move through the state's economy. In the end, every dollar spent on outdoor activities generates about $2 in economic activity. In Missouri, this ripple effect of hunting, fishing and forest products exceeds $7 billion annually.
A Smart Investment
After seeing their wild resources decimated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Missourians understood the value of conservation. That is why they voted in 1936 to amend the state constitution and set up a politically independent conservation agency. In 1976 Missouri voters amended the constitution again, this time to provide permanent, adequate conservation funding through a one-eighth of 1 percent conservation sales tax.
Good management of Missouri's wild resources still is critical to our state's economic well-being. Now more than ever, conservation isn't just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing. triangle