Wildlife Watching: An Economic Boon to Communities

Wildlife Watching Hunting
71 Million Participants
31% Of The Population
$40.5 Billion Spent
$7.65 Billion on Food & Lodging
Growing Business
12.5 Million Participants
5% Of The Population
$21.3 Billion Spent
$2.71 Billion on Food & Lodging
Mature Business

By Peter Muller

When we compare various wildlife associated recreational activities, wildlife watching has now so decisively overtaken hunting by every measure that it is a “no-brainer” as to which activity should be encouraged and which should be phased out by the wildlife managing agencies.

Whether we look at wildlife watching from the point of view of financial advantage to the community where the activity takes, place, the beneficial (or at least the minimal negative) impact on the eco-system, or satisfying the greatest number and the greatest percentage of people who seek opportunities to participate in the activity – wildlife watching outperforms hunting in all respects.

Wildlife watching is incompatible with hunting. Abundance of wildlife attracts both wildlife watchers and hunters. The seasons when wildlife and migrating birds are of most interest to both hunters and wildlife watches coincide.  Wildlife watchers do not want to be afield in places when hunting takes place for an obvious concern for their own safety, as well as not wanting to witness the destruction of the fauna they have come to appreciate. It pretty much has to be one or the other, and any rational choice should be decisively in favor of wildlife watching.

Let’s look at the financial contribution made by the two groups of participants to the communities where the activity takes place. The national figures are fairly well representative of the various regional (state) figures as well.

All figures cited (unless otherwise noted) are from the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (issued July 2007 — final version to be issued in November 2007 but not yet available at the time of this writing). All of these data are about individuals 16 years old and older.

Nationwide there are six times as many wildlife watchers as there are hunters; they outspend hunters 2:1 in total expenditures, and 3:1 for Food and Lodging. In no state in the union were there more hunters than wildlife watchers.

Leaving all considerations of ethics aside, choosing simply to accommodate the preferred activity of the largest number of individuals who want to participate in wildlife-associated recreation – the choice has to be to favor wildlife watching over hunting. If we additionally consider the financial benefit to the community where the activity takes place – then there simply is no alternative except to opt for wildlife watching over hunting.

What about the impact on the ecosystem between wildlife watching and hunting? Here again, any objective, rational analysis will show that the ecosystem as a whole is much better served by wildlife watching than by hunting. The ecosystem is best served if biodiversity is naturally maintained. In order to accommodate hunting, wildlife managers will manipulate the habitat and promulgate regulations that permit the “maximum sustainable yield” or simply put the largest number of live targets for the hunters. That is akin to taking a forest that has a greatly diverse flora and turning it into a mono-crop plantation.

By the way, in Canada, we see the same pattern of demand for wildlife watching over hunting.

The sources for the Canadian data are:

1) The Socioeconomic Significance Of Nature-Based Recreation In Canada
Paul A. Gray et al. Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Toronto, Ontario

2) Integration of Biodiversity and Tourism: 
Canada Case Study for:UNEP’s Biodiversity Planning Support Programme Pamela Wight

For Canadians 16 years of age or older, the percentage of participants in wildlife watching (18.6%) exceeds the percentage of participants in hunting (5.1%).  In both the US and Canada, the percentage of hunters has crashed down to 5% over from nearly double that in the last 20 years. From the above cited studies, we see that:

Wildlife viewing attracted 526,000 U.S. visitors to Canada [in 1996].
* Most U.S. visitors who visited Canada for wildlife related activity visited Ontario (50.0%)
* Neither survey addressed cross-border trips for hunting because previous surveys revealed that few Canadians hunted in the United States and few Americans hunted in Canada.
* U.S. visitors who visited Canada for wildlife watching activities spent $352.5 million.
* The U.S. leisure travel market is the biggest and richest in the world
* The dominant types of tourism are nature-based tourism, including ecotourism…

Since tourism is already  a major industry in Canada, and is establishing itself as a major industry in the US, it would make sense for both countries to invest in the promotion of wildlife watching as a valuable center-piece of the tourism industry.

The facts are there, the numbers are there, the customer-base is there, the money is there.  There still seems to be an irrational reluctance of government agencies to embrace this economic resource because the political will is not yet there.  The wildlife management agencies are fully vested in the hunting alternative. 

The agencies are staffed by “good-ole-boy” hunters who have a personal interest in perpetuating the perverse hobby, regardless of the financial consequences to their community – or the ethical considerations of supporting such a barbaric, out-dated practice. The agencies are totally committed to maintaining the hunting alternative at all costs until the last hunter drops from his tree stand. The political office holders who are putatively overseeing these agencies are afraid to act decisively in making the necessary changes.  The old political habit of yielding to the hunting and gun lobbies is still strong and has to overcome by presenting the economic interests of their constituents to the political office-holders at all levels of government.

We have to point out to the private industries groups, such as B&Bs and hotels, as well as state, county, town and village tourism boards that there is a pool of new revenue out there waiting for them if they let their political representatives know, in no uncertain terms, which side of the toast the soy spread is on.


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Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561