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Ken Perrotte’s Outdoors Column: Show a casualty in gun flap

REED EXHIBITIONS announced last Friday that it is postponing the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, scheduled for Feb. 2–10 in Harrisburg, Pa. No makeup date has been announced.

Vendors and seminar speakers backed out en masse after the British-owned exhibition company’s decision to exclude modern sporting rifles from the event. The company’s media announcement of the postponement said the driving factor was “the controversy surrounding the company’s decision to limit the sale or display of assault rifles.”

“In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs [modern sporting rifles] would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests. This was intended simply as a product decision, of the type event organizers need to make every day,” said Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions president for the Americas.

The event usually attracts more than 1,000 vendors and nearly a quarter-million attendees, according to the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau.

Estimated loss to the local economy is calculated at $80 million, HHRVB president Mary Smith said. That figure doesn’t include lost revenues for the Farm Show Complex venue or lost local hotel tax revenues.

The loss of business revenues from sales of gear and hunting and fishing trips from the show will slam many small exhibitors. Some outfitters at that show have shared with me that they usually book half or more of their season’s available dates at the show. Still, many small exhibitors were canceling right along with the big companies.

Some groups of outfitters are trying to salvage what they can after paying for airline flights and more. One group of outfitters was working together to create a “hunting only” outfitters day at a local hotel, hoping to attract the truly motivated consumers for guided hunts.

An emerging outdoor-industry view is that this show debacle reflects a broader debate—namely, potential firearms restrictions are so serious that this preemptive banning by a trade-show company of any hunting rifle that looks like a military-styled firearm trumps short-term business.

The U.S. representative for that area of Pennsylvania, Republican Tom Marino, immediately issued a statement expressing his disappointment about the postponement and Reed Exhibition’s prohibition on the display or sale of many kinds of modern sporting rifles and magazines at the show.

He encouraged Reed Exhibitions to “swiftly reverse its decision and for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to take steps to ensure that all future events of this nature held at the Farm Show Complex are held in a manner that respects the Second Amendment rights of all Pennsylvanians.”

Reed Exhibitions is a huge global company, and this flap likely won’t create more than a minor ding in the overall corporate accountants. But Jim Shepherd, who heads up the outdoor industry’s digital news wire, wrote that Reed’s refusal to reconsider the modern sporting rifle ban “essentially rendered itself toxic in the outdoor industry.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which owns the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades) Show, partners with Reed to manage the show. The NSSF is said to be considering its options. Consensus is that Reed won’t be working in this business again.

OUTDOORS ECONOMIC IMPACT REPORT

The NSSF, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and American Sportfishing Association have released reports outlining the economic impact of sportsmen’s activities in America.

Using information provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s five-year study released late last year, the reports look at both participation and expenditures by American sportsmen and women.

Total spending, if hunting and fishing were a single company, would see it ranked 24th on the Fortune 500 list, according to 2011 numbers used in the reports.

Hunter spending has a total economic impact of $90 billion on the U.S. economy. Hunter numbers increased by 9 percent between 2006 and 2011, with spending on hunting-related products growing by 30 percent during that time frame.

An Economic Force for Conservation report noted that anglers increased 11 percent since 2006 while fishing tackle sales grew more than 16 percent. America’s nearly 60 million anglers generated $48 billion in retail sales with a $115 billion impact on the economy.

All these outdoor dollars fuel conservation efforts via license fees and federal excise taxes. Nearly $3 billion a year goes to support wildlife agencies and conservation, according to the NSSF.

And this doesn’t include all the individual work that landowners do for habitat acquisition and restoration. That adds another $11 billion to the mix.

The sturdiness of America’s hunting and fishing traditions doesn’t appear to be in doubt. Outdoors enthusiasts continue to be in the vanguard of paying the way for conservation.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or e–mail at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

For more on outdoors things to do around Fredericksburg and the region, sign up for The Free Lance-Star’s newest e-newsletter, Mighty Outdoors, at http://fredericksburg.com/topics/mightyoutdoors/about.html

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