OLYMPIA – Community leaders, business owners, private landowners, conservationists and state officials are expected to gather Sept. 13-14 in Richland, Wash. for a conference intended to continue expanding the state’s $1 billion annual wildlife-viewing tourism industry.
This fourth annual event is presented by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the state’s Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED). Other partners include the City of Richland, the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau and Audubon Washington.
“Washington wildlife, and the lands that support them, are an important part of our economy and quality of life,” said Governor Chris Gregoire. “Nature tourism depends not only on protecting our wild areas, but also on maintaining our working farms and forested lands. This conference will show how good environmental policy and a vibrant business economy can go hand in hand.”
This year’s conference, titled “The Business of Nature Tourism,” will take place at the Richland Community Center, 500 Amon Park Drive.
Wildlife viewing is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the United States, and nature-related tourism one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Washington’s wildlife-viewing tourism industry is the seventh largest in the nation, with wildlife watchers in this state spending about $1 billion annually, mostly in rural areas.
"Washington's natural beauty and endless discoveries are cornerstones of its worldwide appeal,” said Larry Williams, CTED assistant director of Trade and Economic Development. “Watchable wildlife continues to have great potential for communities across the state."
More than two dozen local communities host annual wildlife viewing festivals and most started within the past decade, said Mike O’Malley, WDFW watchable wildlife section manager.
“From the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival to the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival, communities around the state are learning how to protect their natural resources while developing a new, successful economic base at the same time,” O’Malley said.
The conference’s two keynote speakers – Miles Phillips from Texas and Judy Walden from Colorado – will share their expertise in developing unique rural economic development opportunities, such as watchable wildlife programs, ecotourism and family-based businesses.
A reception Wednesday evening at the Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science and Technology in Richland will kick off the event. Optional field trips include a jet boat tour of the Hanford Reach National Monument, an “Ice Age Floods” trip and several self-guided wildlife viewing tours.
The conference registration fee is $50, which includes the reception and lunch. The first 100 registrants will receive a copy of Nature Tourism: A Guidebook for Evaluating Enterprise Opportunities, produced by the Texas Cooperative Extension at Texas A&M.
For more information, visit the conference website at http://www.tourism-project.com/2006WWconference/overview.html.