Birders, and birding, have impacts. We spend money on travel (an economic impact), burn gas (an environmental impact), and, occasionally, wander off the path (an ecological impact). Birding is (and I cringe at the word) impactful.
The economic impact of birding is immense. According to the latest research from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife watchers spent nearly $55 billion in 2011, more than either hunting or fishing. Combined, the wildlife-related recreations (wildlife watching, hunting, fishing) generated almost $150 billion in 2011, around 1% of the country’s GDP.
Hunters and anglers are justifiably credited for their contributions to conservation. Their expenditures are taxed, and the additional funds are used for conservation. Birding has no comparable excise tax program. Hunters and anglers are required to pay extra; wildlife watchers and birders have received no such request.
- Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (commonly known as Pittman-Robertson or PR)
- Sport Fish Restoration Act (commonly known as Dingell-Johnson or DJ, as well as the Wallop-Breaux Act)
The original funding legislation ignored wildlife watching and birding. These recreations were still in their infancy compared to hunting and fishing. In addition, the impacts on wildlife from hunting and fishing were easy to see. Concerns about these impacts spurred the original efforts by Theodore Roosevelt and others to enact the first game laws, conserve wildlife habitat, and establish groups like Boone and Crockett to lobby for such protections.
Times change, and wildlife watchers now eclipse hunters and anglers.
- Anglers – 33.1 million
- Hunters – 13.7 million
- Wildlife Watchers – 71.8 million
- Fishing – $41.8 billion
- Hunting – $33.7 billion
- Wildlife Watching – $54.9 billion
You would think that this growth in wildlife watching would translate into growth in influence with resource agencies. Shouldn’t park, refuge, and sanctuary managers be falling over themselves trying to address the needs of this burgeoning group? They aren’t. Most are well aware that their funding is derived from hunting and fishing and not from wildlife watching. They take care of those who pay the freight.
This dichotomy has been debated for years, with little to show in return. Teaming with Wildlife is the effort organized by agencies and stakeholders to enact an excise tax on birding and wildlife watching equipment. This initiative has faltered in the face of opposition from the industry. Voluntary stamp and license plate programs have been (at best) marginally successful as well.
The blog 10,000 Birds recently began a petition drive to ask the president to develop an alternative to the Duck Stamp that would allow those who want access to National Wildlife Refuges to purchase a stamp for which hunters could not take credit. Here are examples of other recent petition attempts.
- Build a Death Star – 34,435
- Let Texas Secede – over 125,000
- Protect states’ rights to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol – 46,185
The wildlife watching stamp failed to gather the necessary 25,000 signatures to be accepted. It has been dropped from the White House petition site.
What exactly will birders support? Nothing has worked to date. Here is another attempt. Perhaps this will be more palatable.
What are the elements in a new program that will be necessary for its acceptance by birders? Here are the key components that I believe are critical to any such effort.
- The program mitigates impacts from our recreation (carbon emissions).
- Voluntary (this is not a tax, this is a voluntary donation).
- The program is funded by birders, for birds, in the name of birding.
- The program is focused on the enhancement and restoration of bird habitats with high sequestration values that are publicly accessible to birders.
- The program measures success as follows:
- Tons of carbon sequestered
- Acres of bird habitat enhanced and/or restored
- Bird populations increased
- Birder (public use) increased
I see this program as being a partnership between a group that represents birders (such as ABA), and a group that manages programs that deal in carbon credits (like the Conservation Fund). Remember; this is to be a program funded by birders, that invests in bird habitats within public birding sites, and that is credited to birding.
Will this work? Consider this example. When I first visited Santa Ana NWR in the early 1970s the refuge began south of the flood levee. The field north of the levee has been planted in carrots, celery, and other cash crops for decades. When the USFWS built the new visitor center north of the levee, they acquired the land north of the levee as well.
The agency quickly began to restore the native vegetation that had been cleared decades before for agriculture. Now when you visit it is easy to believe that you are passing through a primeval forest surrounding the visitor center. The same is true for the area around the visitor center at Laguna Atascosa NWR and the South Padre Island Convention Center. Every twig has been planted, and every square inch of native habitat restored. Carbon has been sequestered, critical bird habitat has been expanded, and birding opportunities in South Texas have been increased.
What do you think? Please post your comments to the ABA Facebook Page where this discussion has been taking place. Thanks!
Ted Lee Eubanks
31 January 2013
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