By Alan Wentz
Most wildlife administrators believe that "when prices for licenses go up, sales go down." It was an argument made when discussion was underway on increasing the price of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp – the Duck Stamp – over the last few years.
Well, the records on first-year sales are in, and they don't show any decrease that can be attributed to the $10 price increase, which raised the cost to $25. In fact, the average number of Duck Stamps sold during the $15-cost years of 1991-2014 was 1,512,841, and for the period of 26 June 2015 (First Day of Sales) thru 31 October 2016 unit sales were over 1,595,500, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Duck Stamp Office.
Since stamps are on sale for three years from U.S. Post Offices and Amplex Corporation (sales to private vendors), we may see additional sales of this first $25 stamp, but those remaining sales typically are fairly limited.
Looking at the sales of Duck Stamps historically, there was initially some truth to the idea that increased prices resulted in lower sales. However, more recent patterns indicate the opposite might be true. In 1989, when the price went from $10 to $12.50, and in 1991, when the price increased from $12.50 to $15, the actual sales went up by small percentages.
Even when administrators expected to see declines in sales from price increases for hunting licenses, most agencies have gone ahead and raised prices (often with legislative approval required) because the increase still would result in an increase in total revenue. In fact, experience in the past showed that sales soon would return to where they had previously been or increase from the former numbers. The trade-off would result in increased funding for vital conservation programs even if the initial sales reflected a decline in the number of participants. (For example, the new $10 price increase should result in an increase of about $16 million for the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund given stable or increased sales.)
Why would this recent increase in price result in enhanced sales? Since anyone 16 years of age or older is required to have the stamp to hunt waterfowl and a $25 stamp is just a small fraction of the overall cost, most waterfowlers will continue to buy the stamp rather than stop hunting. Recent enhanced marketing of the stamp to refuge visitors, stamp and art collectors, environmental educators, bird watchers, wildlife photographers, and others also should account for at least part of the increased sales. In any case, better marketing to everyone interested in conservation is certainly in order.
With the indication over the last few increases in price for Duck Stamps that sales can remain stable or even increase, perhaps future increases will mean even more habitat for waterfowl, other birds, and the multitude of species that depend on vital wetland and grassland habitat.
Alan Wentz served as Chief Conservation Officer of Ducks Unlimited (now retired), is a past president of The Wildlife Society, and was formerly employed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the National Wildlife Federation, and South Dakota State University. He has written extensively on conservation with a special focus on wetlands.