For more information on wildlife viewing, please contact WDFW Wildlife Program.

Phone: 360-902-2515
E-mail: wildthing@dfw.wa.gov

Found Injured Wildlife?

Contact a local
Wildlife Rehabilitator

 
For more information contact a WDFW Regional Office


 
Nature Tourism Benefits Washington Communities

Wildlife Watching: Untapped Economic Boost for Rural Communities

"Compared to commodities, money spent on wildlife watching is second only to the combined value of all field crops. Its value is larger than the value of livestock; and larger than the combined value of all fruits, nuts and berries produced annually!"

One of Washington's most valuable natural resources-our native fish and wildlife- is often overlooked when it comes to assessing an area's economic health. Leaders from Washington's rural areas may want to look again, however.

Washington's rich, diverse wildlife populations occur mostly in rural areas where people love to visit and enjoy watching wildlife. Surprisingly, these visits have a profound impact on rural economies.

Over $1.7 billion is spent annually in Washington on wildlife watching activities, mostly in rural areas. This is money spent locally on food, lodging, transportation and equipment. Wildlife watching activities support more than 21,000 jobs, making it second only to Boeing, and 5.2 times larger than Microsoft's employment in Washington. Wildlife watching yields $426.9 million in job income and generates $56.9 million in state and $67.4 million in federal tax revenues each year.

Even with these numbers, Wildlife Watching is an untapped economic resource for rural economies and Washington. It needs a jump start to meet it's potential.

Wildlife Watching: A Growing Industry

Did You Know?

Wildlife watching creates 21,000 jobs in Washington.

Wildlife Watching is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry.

Wildlife thrives best in rural areas – a natural attraction for developing rural economies.

Washington is 4th nationally in expenditures on wildlife viewing, accomplished with little promotion.

Nature-related tourism is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, with wildlife viewing the #1 outdoor activity in the U.S.

Wildlife viewing is the fastest-growing recreational activity in the United States, exceeding hiking, skiing and golfing. Washington's wildlife resources contribute to social, economic, and cultural qualities of the state and its communities.

Wildlife viewing opportunities occur primarily on public lands and have a significant positive impact on local economies in small towns and rural areas.

Washington ranks fourth in the country in wildlife-related expenditures, achieved with minimal promotion. California, Florida and New Jersey are the only states that surpass Washington, and all have extensive promotional efforts underway.

Fueling the tremendous growth in wildlife watching activities is the aging of the "Baby Boom" generation. As baby-boomers approach middle-age, their interests in outdoor activities changes to softer activities that can be combined with other travel pursuits.

Money Spent on Wildlife Viewing, Compared to Washington's Top Commodity Sales

Wildlife watching creates an economic boost to the state's economy that is nearly double that of the state's biggest agricultural commodity, apples. The Apple Commission has a staff of 48 people; 33 in-house and 15 field staff throughout the world, and a budget of $24 million. The WDFW's Watchable Wildlife Program began in 1997, has one person and a budget of $0.14 million.

Compared to commodities, money spent on wildlife watching is second only to the combined value of all field crops. Its value is larger than the value of livestock; and larger than the combined value of all fruits, nuts and berries produced annually!
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Jobs Created by Wildlife Viewing

Viewing wildlife creates jobs in Washington's rural communities-from border to border. In areas suffering from declines in salmon fishing, wildlife viewing is keeping citizens employed and cities stable.

Wildlife viewing occurs primarily in rural areas in proximity to public lands. Rural economies experience greater economic impact from the "ripple effect" of dollars spent in their communities than do urban areas.

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Demographics Fuel Wildlife Viewing

Twenty Years ago, and twenty years younger, "Baby Boomers" demanded intense outdoor activities.

As Baby Boomers reach middle age, their recreational preferences change to softer pursuits, fueling a dramatic increase in wildlife viewing.


If wildlife watching were a Fortune 500
company, it would rank in the top 25.

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What Does a Wildlife Viewer "Look Like?"

Wildlife viewers tend to spend more on their trips than other tourists, directly impacting rural economies.

A wildlife viewer traditionally spends $100 to $130 per day, not including travel, and is generally responsible and courteous, making him/her an ideal market for local businesses that benefit from tourism.

Many wildlife viewers indicate that they consider themselves beginners to amateurs and feel a need for assistance on how and where to go view fish and wildlife.

They are interested in more than wildlife. Most watch wildlife while engaged in some other form of tourism and/or outdoor recreation.

They take trips related to: scenery, nature, outdoor adventure or learning about another culture.

They tend to be from the 25 - 54 age group.

They generally have a 50:50 gender ratio (very unusual.)

What Local Community Leaders Say

"We discovered we were rich in bird life. We developed a bird section for our chamber web page, produced two birding brochures, and started our first bird festival."

Walter Gary
Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce

Walter Gary, Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce, "Our whole community has made a major commitment over the last two years to develop tourism.. We discovered we were rich in bird life. We developed a bird section for our chamber web page, produced two birding brochures, and started our first bird festival."

John Taylor, Director, Adams County Economic Development "The Othello Sandhill Crane festival has pulled together an unlikely array of cooperators to make a very successful economic and educational event for the Othello area."

In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the economic impact of birders at surveyed refuges is estimated to be in excess of $90 million per year.

An estimated 14,000 - 22,000 birders annually visit the Platte River in Nebraska and contributed between $25 to 50 million in the rural communities.

Rural Community Wildlife Festivals

New Research Confirms-Nature-Based Tourism Hot!

A 1998 study commissioned by Florida Tourism has stunned travel officials. This national survey of travelers-to Florida and to non-Florida sites-reveals the importance that nature-based activities are to travelers. The following are the highlights of the non-Florida destination vacationer.

  • Nature-based activities are now a mainstream travel market, with substantial room for expansion.
  • 50% of Americans include nature-based activities on vacation.
  • 82% of families with children included nature-based activities on vacations.
  • Spontaneous decisions are significant. Travelers often decide which activities to include based on information available at their destination.
  • Income level is not a significant factor in nature-based travel decisions.
  • Neither is age a significant factor, at least below 50. Market expansion for tourists over 50 will occur if adequate information is available explaining nearby, low impact nature-based activities.
  • Expansion of nature-based travel market will occur through improved information on when and where nature-based activities occur in the local community.

  • Snow geese at the Skagit Wildlife Area

Improving Washington's Watchable Wildlife Industry

State Needs

Few opportunities exist for such a large payback for such a small investment. State funding could be the catalyst to help rural community economies, and to prepare for potential federal funding.

  • Develop a pilot project with rural communities to create local wildlife festivals. Provide small grants to seed this concept. ($250,000 per biennium.)
  • Develop salmon viewing areas for the public to see spawning salmon return to their natal streams; after which the visitors will appreciate and want to protect salmon. ($500,000 per biennium.)
  • Fund capital improvements to Wildlife Areas for visitor parking and convenience facilities. ($1,000,000 per biennium.)
Washington ranks fourth in the country in wildlife-related expenditures, achieved with minimal promotion. California, Florida and New Jersey are the only states that surpass Washington, and all have extensive promotional efforts underway.
    • Support/encourage funding of Watchable Wildlife positions in the departments of tourism and transportation.
    • Support the development of the state's Wildlife Areas as showcases for rural recreational opportunities. Provide funds to address the backlog of maintenance needs, and development of visitor facilities and recreational opportunities. ($10,000,000 per biennium.)

Federal Legislative Assistance

Legislation being considered by Congress offers great potential to address some of the many needs of rural communities, particularly fish and wildlife recreation, protection and viewing opportunities. The Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999 (CARA) would provide an infusion of funds to help manage our wildlife resources for traditional uses and for the new, emerging trends. All seven titles of CARA would pump needed funds into rural economies.

Gaining support of Washington's Congressional delegation is critical if this legislation is to become law. (Contact Rocky Beach - 360-902-2510)


(Source: Dun & Bradstreet 1997; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service & Bureau of Census; Office of Financial Management 1997 Data Book.)

For more information, contact:
Michael F. O'Malley, WDFW, 360-902-2377
e-mail at Michael.OMalley@dfw.wa.gov