BY KYLE CAMPBELL
Special to the Record-Eagle
LANSING — Drought conditions, low water levels and a rash of disease in the white-tailed deer population did not curtail fishing and hunting as a mainstay of Michigan's 2012 economy.
More than 1.19 million fishing licenses and more than 2.39 million hunting licenses were purchased from the Department of Natural Resources between March 1 and Jan. 17, 2013. The state surpassed its license revenue from the previous year by more than $375,000.
But Sharon Schafer, the head of the DNR's Budget and Support Services Division, said the state still lags about $400,000 behind projections for the fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.
So far, license revenues are more than $51 million, on par with the past several years. About $3.5 million goes for general state purposes, Schafer said.
The economic impact of hunting and fishing industries is not limited to license fees.
In 2011, Michigan saw an estimated $2.36 billion in hunting-related retail sales and $2.46 billion in fishing-related sales, according to the National Shooting Sport Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association.
The impact of these outdoor sports also affects other tourism-related industries, benefiting northern parts of the state.
For example, with 17 hotels in Cadillac and close to two dozen outlying hotels and motels in the surrounding area, the city benefits greatly from hunting and fishing tourism, Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau Executive Director Joy VanDrie said.
"It's quite important," VanDrie said of outdoor sports. "It supports not only the hotels — the tax base — but the restaurants and the bait-and-tackle shops. We have a lot of guides in the area. Everything from bear tracking to ice fishing, we have seasons year round."
One beneficiary of 2012's hunting and fishing seasons was Steve Knaisel, owner of Pilgrim's Village Resort in Cadillac, which consists of 16 cottages, seven motel rooms and a bait-and-tackle shop on the eastern shore of Lake Mitchell.
"There's no way to measure how important they are to us," he said of hunting and fishing.
Mark Tonello, a fisheries biologist for the DNR in Cadillac, said inland lakes, particularly along the state's west coast, still are experiencing below-average water levels because of below-average levels in Lake Michigan.
"We're still in the midst of a drought. Lake Michigan levels are at or nearing the all-time low record set in 1965," he said.
According to the Army Corp of Engineers, the average water level of lakes Michigan and Huron was 576.04 feet in mid-January, which sits about 2 feet below the long-term average and beneath the 1965 low mark of 576.1 feet.
Kyle Campbell writes for Michigan State University's Capital News Service.