Dept. of Interior: Wildlife activities now a $156 billion industry

“Wildlife Watching” and Fishing up, Hunting down.

A new report just released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that 101.6 million Americans participated in wildlife activities in 2016 and they collectively spent $156 billion. That’s the most money spent in the past 25 years — adjusted for inflation.

The study, which happens every five years, shows big jumps in wildlife watching and fishing, but a major decrease in people participating in hunting.

Take a deeper dive into the numbers, and it becomes apparent that the large overall jumps in participation and spending are much to the credit of the “wildlife watching” category.

The study is the 13th survey since 1955.

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The Numbers

“Wildlife-Watching” (Observing and Photographing Wildlife)

  • Participation up  20%  between 2011 and 2016 — 71.8 million (2011) to 86 million (2016)
  • Spending up 28% between 2011 and 2016 — 59.1 billion (2011) to 75.9 billion (2016)
outdoor industry booming
Fishing experienced modest growth between 2011 and 2016


  • Participation up  8%  between 2011 and 2016 — 33.1 million (2011) to 35.8 million (2016)
  • Spending up 3% between 2011 and 2016 — 45 billion (2011) to 46.1 billion (2016)


  • Participation down  16%  between 2011 and 2016 — 13.6 million (2011) to 11.5 million (2016)
  • Spending down 29% between 2011 and 2016 — 36.3 billion (2011) to 25.6 billion (2016)
Wildlife participation statistics
Wildlife participation statistics. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

One of the greatest jumps in spending is under the “special equipment” category for Wildlife Watching. There was a 173% increase between 2011 and 2016. Special equipment sub-categories include campers, motor homes, RVs, and boats.

There was also a big jump (166%) in “auxiliary equipment” for fishing. Sub-categories include camping equipment, binoculars, special fishing gear and taxidermy cost.

Wildlife spending statistics
Wildlife spending statistics. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

When asked about the decrease in participation in hunting, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke said: “Hunters and anglers are at the backbone of American conservation, so the more sportsmen and women we have, the better off our wildlife will be.”

Zinke went on to say, “Some of our wildlife refuges have great mentored hunting programs. I’d like to see these programs replicated and expanded across the country, and reach into areas where kids don’t traditionally get the opportunity to hunt, fish, and connect with wildlife. Some of my best family time growing up and raising my own kids was hunting an elk, enjoying a pheasant, or reeling in a rainbow. These are the memories and traditions I want to share with future generations.”

The report, which was released September 7, can be read in its entirety here.  

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