It’s probably too early to claim a cause and effect relationship, but the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down theaters and sporting events has certainly not dampened the enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits in Illinois.
The number of fishing licenses sold this year is up. Turkey harvest was high and visitation at state parks and related state sites is on the upswing.
“Sales of fishing licenses are up significantly this year,” said Chris Young, direction of the Illinois Conservation’s Office of Resource Conservation. “In fact, from March 1, new license year for Illinois, to June 24, our most recent data, fishing licenses are up more than 64,400 compared with the same time period last year.”
That’s important for a cash-starved state like Illinois. Monies gleaned from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses directly impact IDNR coffers.
“Hunting and fishing licenses fund our wildlife and fish management, including salaries of our biologists, Young said. “Essentially, funding from these license sales are used for hunting and fishing programs, operations, habitat and research.
“Last year, hunting licenses generated more than $31 million; fishing licenses generated nearly $9 million.”
In addition, the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and outdoor recreational equipment trigger matching funds from the federal government through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson acts.
The Dingell-Johnson Act was enacted in 1950 and allows states to impose a 10 percent excise tax in fishing and boating equipment. The funds collected through the act are deposited with the U.S. Treasury and can be used solely for boating and fishing purposes – such as building boat ramps or restocking lakes.
States typically pay 25 percent of the cost of qualifying projects while 75 percent is paid through Dingell-Johnson funds. Through Pittman-Robertson an 11 percent tax is placed on long guns and ammunition and 10 percent on handguns.
Like Dingell-Johnson, the funds are used as matching grants for wildlife restoration. Over $7 billion has been returned to states since the act was passed in 1937.
“Last year, the state received nearly $7 million from the Dingell-Johnson Act and more than $12 million from the Pittman-Robertson Act,” Young said. “We have not yet received preliminary apportionments for Fiscal Year 2022 Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts, so it’s a bit early to determine whether COVID-19 is a factor.”
And, apparently the pandemic had few ill effects on the turkey season.
“This year, 15,800 turkeys were harvested, more than 2019 and only about 700 off the record of 16,569 in 2006,” Young said. “Youth harvested 1,744 birds, a record total, compared with 1,392 in 2019. As is always the case, every season is different. Fluctuations in numbers can be attributed to a number of things including weather.”
As noted earlier, the pandemic doesn’t appear to have dampened the appetite of Illinois residents for outdoor entertainment.
“What we’ve seen, and what has been extremely encouraging, is the number of people visiting our parks,” said Young. “In addition to fishing at state parks, fish and wildlife areas and recreational areas, we’re seeing Illinoisans excited to be outdoors, enjoying recreational opportunities like camping, hiking and wildlife watching. What’s more, visitors are being extremely respectful of public health directives, paying close attention to social distancing requirements.”
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