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Other Views: Hunting helps the economy

If you asked a dozen people in Baker County to list the popular local hobbies, we'd wager at least eight would mention hunting.

Baker County has more options for hunters than just about any of Oregon's 35 other counties. Besides large populations of deer and elk, the county also boasts antelope, bear, cougar, coyotes, and a variety of upland game birds and waterfowl. Baker County also is the only Oregon county with hunting seasons for mountain goats as well as both of the state's bighorn sheep species.

But hunting is a lot more than a sport around here. It's also an integral part of the economy. A 2008 study estimated that hunters spent $4.5 million in Baker County that year. Statewide, hunting generated about $1.4 billion in economic activity.

But those numbers seem to be dropping.

According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, the number of hunters in Oregon dropped from 237,000 in 2006 to 196,000 in 2011 — a 17-percent decrease. That trend has prompted a group of Oregon hunters to form "Hunting Works for Oregon," an organization that will promote hunting and recreational shooting. The Oregon group joins chapters in nine other states.

Hunters don't just ring cash registers in local restaurants, motels, gas stations and other businesses. They also pay taxes on firearms and ammunition and buy licenses and tags. That money helps pay to maintain and restore wildlife habitat, a benefit not only to hunters but also to people who just like to see wildlife when they're out for a drive in the country.