September 03, 2003
Contact: Tim Waters, (360) 902-2262
First wildlife tourism workshop draws statewide participants
OLYMPIA - An estimated 150 people, including state and local government leaders, gathered here today for the first state-sponsored workshop aimed at exploring ways to expand wildlife viewing tourism in Washington’s rural communities.
The workshop, hosted by the state departments of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Community,Trade and Economic Development (CTED), was the initial step toward development of a statewide strategic plan for boosting wildlife viewing tourism.
The plan was requested by legislators earlier this year and is expected to be complete by year’s end.
About 2.5 million wildlife viewers spent nearly $1 billion in 2001 in Washington state on various goods and services, according to a recently released federal survey. The survey placed Washington seventh nationally in total wildlife viewing spending, just behind states such as California, Florida and New York.
The same survey, conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, estimated that roughly a quarter of all wildlife viewers nationwide have household incomes over $75,000 and, on average, spend 17 days annually away from home watching wildlife.
“There is no question that our rural communities stand to gain even more in the years ahead from wildlife viewing-related tourism,” WDFW Director Jeff Koenings told those attending the conference.
“Consider that in 1969 in Washington state there was only one major wildlife viewing festival,” Koenings said. “Today, there are at least a dozen festivals, nine of which have been launched since 1990 in communities as diverse as Othello and Ocean Shores, Marblemount and Walla Walla.”
“Wildlife viewers opened their pocketbooks and let their discretionary income flow on restaurant meals and motel rooms, gasoline and galoshes, boats and binoculars, rain gear and rafts—you name it,” Koenings added.
The workshop was organized after passage this spring of state Senate Bill 5011, sponsored by state Sens. Ken Jacobsen (D-Seattle), Shirley Winsley (R-Fircrest) and Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle).
The bill requested that WDFW and CTED host a workshop with citizens to develop a strategic plan to promote wildlife viewing tourism in a way that provides sustainable economic development in rural areas and maintains the state’s diverse wildlife resources.
Besides Koenings, the conference was attended by Robin Pollard, director of CTED’s Economic Development Division, and Sens. Jacobsen and Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard). Also attending was Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner John Hunter of Cashmere. Keynote speaker was James Mallman, president of Watchable Wildlife, Inc.
Workshop organizers said Mike O’Malley and Chuck Gibilisco from WDFW, George Sharp and Joan Stilz from CTED and Nina Carter from Audubon Washington have been named to the planning team for development of the strategic plan.
Sharp told conference attendees that a draft of the plan is expected to be ready this fall and will be presented at a state-sponsored Tourism Forum in Seattle in November. The public will be invited to comment on the draft plan, which will be available at the forum and posted on CTED’s and WDFW’s websites.