Study shows wildlife-watching generates billions
By WES SMALLING
Star-Tribune staff writer
A new federal report shows how the rapidly growing outdoor pastime of watching wild animals has become an economic powerhouse.
Released in October, the new addendum report tacked onto the federal government’s “National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation,” which is published every five years, concludes that expenditures from wildlife watching equal the revenues generated from all spectator sports, amusement parks and arcades, casinos without hotels, bowling alleys and ski resorts combined.
“Wildlife Watching in the U.S.: The Economic Impacts on National and State Economies in 2006″ concludes that in that year wildlife watchers generated $122.6 billion in total industrial output for state and national economies.
The country’s growing interest in watching birds and other wild animals is no surprise to Jessica Lynn, community naturalist for the Murie Audubon Society in Casper. At the Audubon Center at Garden Creek, she greets more than 500 student visitors a month and, depending on the season, about 100 adults a month. They come to peer through binoculars at birds and walk the nature trail that’s near the base of Casper Mountain.
“You just missed a flock of 30 turkeys that were right here,” she said, taking a break last Friday afternoon from setting up for a children’s Halloween event at the Audubon Center.
What does surprise her about the report is the massive amount of money generated by observing wildlife.
“Binoculars, backpacks, birding guides and maps, clothing for all four seasons,” she said.
People spend all that money on watching wildlife because observing the animals helps put them in touch with nature, she said.
“There’s just that connection to the natural world, and with so many people who live in town, live in cities, it’s seeing something different, getting away from all the hustle-bustle and the noise.”
While participation in wildlife watching grows, federal surveys show how the number of hunters and anglers continues to decline. That national trend is most likely a result of the country becoming more urban, said Nicolas Throckmorton, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program. The program distributes wildlife conservation grants to states and other entities from the revenues raised on a tax on hunting and fishing equipment.
“It’s a disturbing trend, because hunters and anglers provide the dollars for wildlife conservation,” he said. “There’s an 11 percent excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment. There is no tax on wildlife watching equipment.”
According to the surveys, wildlife watching is one of the most popular types of outdoor recreation in the country.
In 2006, nearly a third of the U.S. population, about 71.1 million people, enjoyed observing, feeding and photographing wildlife — an increase of 8 percent since 2001. Wildlife watchers spent $45.7 billion in 2006 on travel, gear and other related expenses. According to the report, those expenditures had a ripple effect across local, state and national economies generating $122.6 billion in industrial output and resulting in more than a million jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenues.
Together, hunters and anglers spent more in 2006 — $76.7 billion on travel, gear and other expenses of their sports.
In Wyoming, participation in fishing has declined 31 percent over the last decade, and there has been a slight decrease in the number of hunters. The state has had a slight rise in wildlife watchers who come from all over to visit the state for its wildlife, most notably at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The parks receive millions of visitors each year who come to camp, hike, see geysers and snap photos of bison, elk, grizzlies and wolves.
The big hit in the Casper area for birders is watching the showy springtime mating displays of sage grouse. There’s a growing local interest in the unique birds, and some people come from other states to see them, said Robin Kepple, spokeswoman for the Casper office of Wyoming Game and Fish, who teaches wildlife watching classes at Casper College.
“There aren’t many other places where you can go experience something like that,” Kepple said of watching sage grouse in the Casper area. “We do have some amazing wildlife populations in Wyoming, and it’s great you can just jump in your car and drive 15 minutes or so and see them.”
Like Lynn, Kepple is surprised at the billions of dollars generated from wildlife watching. As a baseball fan, she’s especially shocked that watching wild animals has more of an economic impact than pro sports.
“If that’s the case, it makes you wonder why professional athletes are making so many millions of dollars while wildlife are always scraping for habitat funding.”
The numbers are in
Recently released federal surveys conducted in 2006 show that during that year:
* Nationwide, 87.5 million people spent $122.3 billion hunting, fishing and watching wildlife.
* Anglers numbered 30 million and there were 12.5 million hunters, with 8.5 million participating in both pursuits. Combined, hunters and anglers spent $76.7 billion.
* Wildlife watchers numbered 71.1 million, an increase of 8 percent since 2001. They spent $45.7 billion, which generated $122.6 billion dollars in industrial output and resulted in 1,063,482 jobs, federal tax revenues of $9.3 billion, and state and local tax revenues of $8.9 billion.
* The top five states ranked by economic output for wildlife watching are California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and New York.
* In Wyoming, 762,000 people hunted, fished and watched wildlife. About 203,000 of those fished and 102,000 hunted, while wildlife watchers numbered 643,000. Note that the sums of anglers, hunters and watchers exceeds the total number of participants in wildlife-related recreation because many people engaged in more than one type of activity.
Over the last decade, Wyoming has seen a 31 percent decline in the number of people fishing in the state. Hunting participation in Wyoming has remained relatively steady, showing only a slight decline. Wildlife watching has shown a slight increase in Wyoming.
The federal reports, “Wildlife Watching in the United States: The Economic Impacts on National and State Economies in 2006,” the “2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation” and state-by-state breakdowns are available for download online at the Web site of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program at:
Where to watch
It’s always birding season at Casper’s Audubon Center at Garden Creek.
One of the best times to visit is for Brown Bag Birding every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. Bring a lunch and watch birds at the feeders and keep an eye out for other wildlife visitors that frequent the area, such as deer, pronghorn and rabbits. Walk the nature trail or peer through binoculars from the warmth of the great indoors through the center’s large viewing windows.
Take Poplar Street south past Wyoming Boulevard, turn left at Garden Creek Road and follow it a short distance to the parking area.
A few other easily accessible spots to watch wildlife in and around Casper include:
* Casper Outdoor Classroom, located at the Casper office of Wyoming Game and Fish off Highway 220 along the North Platte River. The site includes an amphitheater, interpretive signs and area for outdoor learning activities. It connects to the North Platte River Pathway system and is adjacent to an Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.
* Edness-Kimball Wilkins State Park is located 5 miles east of Casper. It features a viewing blind and nature trails with interpretive signs; handicapped accessible.
* North Platte River. Pick up a recreation guide from the Casper Parks and Recreation Department, which provides a trail map and info on the wildlife watching and other recreational activities along the river.