OLYMPIA - Two Washington state agencies have developed a strategic plan to ensure continued growth in the nearly $1 billion wildlife viewing industry in the state.
The plan, completed by the Washington departments of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED), outlines an approach to improve the infrastructure for wildlife-viewing opportunities and expand tourism promotion while preserving the natural resources on which that industry is based.
"This report is the first of its kind in our state, and it underscores the importance of nurturing and expanding watchable wildlife opportunities throughout Washington," said Jeff Koenings, WDFW Director.
"Our abundant native wildlife is one of Washington state's greatest attractions," said Juli Wilkerson, CTED Director. "We want to ensure that everyone can enjoy our state's wildlife while our natural resources are protected for future generations."
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2001 survey of expenditures on outdoor recreation, wildlife-viewing enthusiasts generated almost $980 million in economic activity in Washington during 2001, which is about the same amount generated by recreational fishing.
There are about one dozen wildlife-oriented festivals throughout the state, half of which have begun in just the past decade. These festivals range from the Sandhill Crane Festival in Othello, to the Skagit Bald Eagle festival along the Skagit River.
In 2003, the Washington State Legislature requested that the two state agencies host a working conference to draft a strategic plan to promote wildlife-viewing tourism in Washington.
The conference, held in September 2003, was attended by 150 people from throughout the state. Their ideas were the foundation of the plan that will promote wildlife viewing as a means to provide sustainable economic development in the state's rural areas, while maintaining the state's wildlife diversity.
Additional input was gathered from participants at the 2003 Washington State Tourism Forum and through a general public review conducted late last year.
Recommendations for WDFW include developing a database of watchable wildlife sites, and a matching grants program for local communities and nonprofit organizations to develop low-impact watchable wildlife sites. It was also suggested that WDFW provide more amenities on department lands, such as parking areas, viewing blinds and access trails.
Recommendations for CTED include developing an interactive map of watchable wildlife areas to enhance the state's tourism website, http://www.experiencewashington.com, conducting research on consumer preferences and economic impact and expanding promotional advertising efforts.
The two agencies estimate the cost of implementation at $3 million to $4.5 million. The work would take several years to complete.
WDFW and CTED will present the watchable wildlife strategic plan and a funding proposal to the Legislature early next year.
The plan is available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/viewing/viewing_plan/index.htm on the Internet.
Meanwhile, the agencies are developing a statewide wildlife viewing coalition that will include many of the participants from the 2003 conference.
Through the coalition, representatives from local government, chambers of commerce, environmental groups and others will gather twice a year - once in eastern Washington and once in western Washington - to continue their development of wildlife-viewing opportunities.