Although an increasing number of Americans say they want opportunities to view wildlife, a Colorado State University survey reveals that few state agencies in North America place a high priority on such programs.
The study, conducted by Colorado State’s Human Dimensions in Natural Resources Unit, found that one main reason agencies do not provide wildlife viewing opportunities is lack of money to pay for those activities.
Of the 59 state wildlife agencies surveyed in the United States and Canada, 42 had some kind of wildlife viewing program. Only five of the agencies contacted had full-time wildlife viewing program coordinators on staff. Wildlife viewing activities vary widely, such as distributing educational materials about wildlife or building sites where people can watch wildlife from a distance. Fishing and hunting are considered separate activities from wildlife viewing.
The survey showed, for example, that 71 percent of agencies provided information educating people about wildlife, but only 15 percent placed a high priority on offering information to allow self-guided tours in wildlife viewing areas.
The survey also revealed that 49 percent of the agencies contacted placed minimal importance on developing viewing platforms at areas where wildlife is frequently seen. Fewer agencies–about 22 percent–placed a high priority on providing limited access areas for specialized wildlife viewers to visit.
Even among states that reported having some kind of wildlife viewing program, small amounts of money are allocated for such efforts, the study found. The average annual budget for wildlife viewing programs is $311,000, equivalent to 3 percent of the average budget to administer hunting programs and about 4 percent of the average budget for fishing programs.
"There is a very good reason for these findings," said Mike Manfredo, a Colorado State professor and study leader. "State fish and wildlife agencies are funded through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and appropriately, those agencies place a higher emphasis on those recreational programs. Although Americans are increasingly interested in wildlife viewing activities, agencies face the dilemma of paying for such programs."
Manfredo, who conducted the survey with graduate student Cynthia Pierce, explained that the survey highlights the need for new ways to fund wildlife viewing programs.
One suggested way to pay for wildlife viewing programs is legislation called Teaming with Wildlife, which would impose a special tax on recreation equipment associated with wildlife viewing, such as binoculars. A coalition of more than 1,600 conservation groups nationwide that endorse the proposal estimate it could generate $350 million for state fish and wildlife agencies for wildlife viewing programs. Congress is scheduled to consider the legislation this year.
Similar taxes imposed on hunting and fishing equipment already have proven successful in helping state agencies manage hunting and fishing programs, Pierce said.
"National surveys indicate the general public is willing to support wildlife viewing programs. The issue really is the best mechanism for paying for them," she said.
The purpose of this latest survey was to determine whether efforts to provide wildlife viewing opportunities were keeping pace with public demand. The survey revealed regional differences in the availability of such recreation activities. Forty-four percent of state wildlife agencies in the northeastern part of the United States and Canada have wildlife viewing programs, compared with 73 percent in the Southeast and 86 percent in both the Midwest and the West.
According to a 1990 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 30 million Americans took at least one trip from home primary to viewing wildlife, while more than 76 million indicated they enjoyed wildlife while participating in other types of recreation.