|Not that much different than a gold bar.|
So for those of you who don't know almost three years ago I cut my guiding back to part time and started working as an economic development planner for a company out of Butte. Since then, I have definitely developed a passion for economic development (certainly not a passion that would rival fishing) and am fascinated by the dollars that fishing brings to my region of Montana, and particularly the juxtaposition between fishing/guiding and agriculture in a valley that is constantly yearning for more water.
I was fortunate enough to sit on the Upper Missouri Basin planning update process a couple of years ago, and helped to form a water plan for the Upper Missouri which included everything from my part of the world (Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby, Madison) to just past Great Falls and Fort Benton. One of the big takeaways I got from the economic development side was talking to fellow ED Planners from the lower river, who had no concept of use of water for recreation. To them, and obviously the bulk of the irrigators, water was something to be consumed. This consumptive use was something that those of us in the upper part of the valley, and as a minority the anglers, had to work to combat in the plan. While there is certainly a need for consumptive use, the value of non-conusumptive uses are tremendous and renewable.
Today I opened up The Chum, and saw this interesting article on the economic impacts of fishing throughout the country. I quickly scrolled though the states I was interested in and came to Montana. $350 million spent statewide directly on fishing, spread amongst 350,000 anglers, so about $1000 an angler (I know I did more than my part). One of the most interesting facts I learned at the Upper Missouri meetings was that approximately 50% of angling in the state occurs in the the Upper Missouri (including Big Hole, Beaverhead, Madison, Jefferson, Gallatin). Combine those two pieces of data and you have $175 million dollars spent in our area directly on fishing. Even with more conservative number (lets do 25%) thats still $87.5 million! Obviously this is a very simple overview, but certainly enough to get my brain working.
So, why is that important? In case you haven't noticed we aren't quite packing away the snow every year like we used to 100 years ago. And with temps increasing and water decreasing, the demand for such a precious resource increases dramatically every year. When it comes down to thinner and thinner years, and more difficult decisions are to be made, being able to show where the dollars go, and more importantly where they come from, is what decision makers are going to be focused on. It's great to see that the conservation efforts that take place don't go to waste, and that there is some real economic value to leaving water in our rivers.
Part 2 of my very simplistic economic study is going to be Washington's coast. We all know the best financial use of steelhead is not dragging them out of the river in a gill net and shipping them to Pikes Place.