New Report Measures Wildlife Watching’s Contribution to Nation’s Economy

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released a report detailing the economic value that wildlife watching contributes to the United States economy.

FWS News Release – October 9, 2008 :

In 2006, the direct expenditures of wildlife watchers generated $122.6 billion in total industrial output.  This resulted in 1,063,482 jobs, a federal tax revenue of $9.3 billion, and a state and local tax revenue of $8.9 billion.  The report details the economic impacts of wildlife watching expenditures by State.  The top 5 States ranked by economic output include California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and New York.  Direct expenditures by wildlife watchers were for items such as cameras, binoculars and bird food, as well as trip-related expenses such as lodging, transportation and food.





  1. Jon Way Avatar

    All of this $$, yet wildlife watchers have no voice in current wildlife management…

  2. Bonnie Kelly Avatar
    Bonnie Kelly

    I wonder how those numbers (especially on a state by state basis) compare to what the livestock industry and the hunting/fishing industry contribute.

  3. jimbob Avatar

    You’re correct, Jon. Unfortunately Game and Fish Depts. in most western states have “watchable wildlife” programs that make it look like they do serve that portion of the public. What they won’t admit is that they only consider that organisms that do not conflict with livestock producers and hunters goals are “watchable”. Predators are treated no better as a result of their “programs”.

  4. Jon Way Avatar

    Here in the east too Jimbob.
    They have watchable wildlife programs, yet allow the same animals to be shot during hunting seasons. Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t, but to think that you watch something like a deer which will later by shot and killed is a joke.
    An animal can be shot and killed once, yet can be watched in unlimited numbers during the course of its life…

  5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Until general fund monies are allocated to fish and game departments, the hunters will allways have the ear of the game departments because they provide most of the funding. Wildlife watchers need to insist that some of the taxes they generate through watching wildlife fund the fish and game departments in their states. The present funding systems force the fish and game departments to operate as game farm managers to benefit the hunters.

  6. Layton Avatar

    “Direct expenditures by wildlife watchers were for items such as cameras, binoculars and bird food, as well as trip-related expenses such as lodging, transportation and food.”

    And you don’t just suppose that some of those items were bought and paid for by those nasty old hunters and fishermen??

  7. John Avatar

    Take only photos, leave only footsteps.
    Don’t destroy what you came to enjoy.

    People get a thrill from seeing wildlife and the wildlife gets to live. Sounds like a fair bargain to me.

  8. frank Avatar

    I will go with you guys as long as you are all vegans. I normally agree with the party line here. I don’t like the hunting of predators that may compete with me. I enjoy taking pictures. I do hunt though. I eat what I kill. I do not kill anything that I will not eat. I will take the criticism though if you guys do not eat meat.

  9. John Avatar

    Criticism comes when it is due. Whether you eat meat or not, whether you hunt or not has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

  10. Maska Avatar

    Frank, I don’t think that criticism of the current funding of state wildlife or game departments should be taken as criticism of all hunting and fishing. What many of us are concerned about is the overemphasis (as we see it) on producing large numbers of certain species of wildlife (i.e. big game animals, especially) for “harvest,” to the frequent detriment of a more balanced view of protecting ecosystems. That is a natural result of the fact that our state’s game department is funded amost entirely through hunting and fishing licences, with no input from general revenue.

    As a non-consumptive “user” of wildlife and public lands, I would personally like my contributions to local economies and taxes to be recognized by having my views better represented in wildlife management decisions. Also, just FYI, my spouse and I always provide a pretty significant amount of money for wildlife through the “share with wildlife” checkoff on our state income tax return. Of course, most people probably don’t take advantage of that checkoff.

    I’d like to see some infusion of general revenue into the game department budget, so that all citizens of the state pay for the wildlife related benefits they enjoy, and so that we all have a voice in wildlife management issues.

  11. frank Avatar

    Maska, I agree with you entirely. As a consumptive user of wildlife, I usually agree more with the non-consumptive users.
    John said,
    “Take only photos, leave only footsteps.
    Don’t destroy what you came to enjoy.

    People get a thrill from seeing wildlife and the wildlife gets to live. Sounds like a fair bargain to me.”
    Criticism comes when it is due. Whether you eat meat or not, whether you hunt or not has nothing to do with the subject at hand.”

    You brought up the subject of killing wildlife. Therefore, I find it relevant.

  12. Scott Avatar

    Hey Jon,

    Wildlife watchers can have a “say” as soon as they start paying their fair share of license, tag, permit, and excise taxes … just like hunters & anglers.

    Like watching your wildlife in federal wildlife refuges? Thank a waterfowl hunter! He bought the land, and pays for virtually all of the staff, upkeep and management costs while you saunter around with your binoculars paying NOTHING!

  13. jimbob Avatar

    Scott you’re missing the point. The management (or mismanagement) of wildlife should not be a for-profit enterprise. The decision to artificially boost one species at the expense of another is made all of the time because one group pays more than the other. You’re saying that because your money is used that gives you the right to say what goes on in the environment? I’m sure companies that pollute the environment use the same argument all of the time “Hey, I’m employing people here–you can’t make me stop polluting. I pay environmental taxes and all of the taxpayers I employ will lose their jobs!”

    If this type of non-scientific decision-making takes hold you can bet that some hunters would be hurt when one species is favored with better regulations or more money over another.

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    You haven’t commented before. What you say is well known and has been discussed here many times. There is no reason to present “an attitude” about this.

    The question is how can those who watch wildlife make their financial contribution? There is no mechanism.

    In addition, as Jimbob argues, “game” is not the same as wildlife. Game is just one kind of wildlife, and is disproportionately favored by the current system of funding.

  15. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    I think you folks have left out all those small towns full of non-hunting operations that generate 50-80% of their net income from the annual migration of hunters into their areas.

    A seasonal non-hunting vegan working in the Holiday Inn in Craig Colorado right now owes her job to the hunting revenue that area provides to that hotel. You don’t have to be a hunter to find that your life has been improved by hunting. Yes, things are out of whack, but swinging the pendulum all the way to the other side has never been a correct answer for any problem.

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Hi Mike,

    I don’t know who you are replying to, but you are generally right about many towns.

    Right now if you visit the small towns of central Idaho, probably 90% of the motel business and a high percentage of the cafe and grocery business is related to hunting.

    Some of these towns have high summertime tourist business, and hunting takes up the “shoulder season.” Some have a winter season too, but many really only have the hunt.

  17. vicki Avatar

    A prime example of how much wildlife watchers contribute to the economy is the gate communities around YNP, and other national parks too.
    How many millions of dollars and thousands of jobs are sustained by tourists who venture to national parks? The primary reason I go to YNP 2-3 times a year is to photograph wildlife. I spend a fortune (by my accounting anyhow) on gas, fees, equipment for photog, and for camping, and on cheesey souvenires for each of the many children I take. My contribution alone for each trip is about 2-3 thousand dollars. That doesn’t include what I spend every month on hiking trips, travel to local animal hot spots, those photos, clothing for those trips, annual supplies of bear spray (3 or 4 cans at 40 dollars a pop) etc. I figure I spend about 10 grand a year. Although I do hunt, I haven’t for two years. I fish almost 80 days a year too. So if you figured in that expense on years I go…it adds up.
    I suspect I am a bit like the normal source of contributions, but maybe a bit more gung ho. Either way, I think my vote on how funding gets spent should count, hunting or not.

  18. Bonnie Avatar

    I agree that a lot of the small towns rely a lot on the hunting/fishing industry for income, but maybe if they would do a bit more to develop the wildlife watching opportunities in their area they would see more year round activity. I don’t mean they need to go out and create a bunch of wildlife sanctuaries (although that would be great). They just need to let people know what they have and how to get there. I think Central Idaho is really missing a bet by not starting to offer guided camping trips, either hiking or horseback where the goal is to see wolves or mountain lions. Look at the number of people to flock to Yellowstone. With a little publicity and a more welcoming attitude, I would think there would be plenty of people eager to visit the beautiful Stanley basin and hopefully see a wolf or at least hear them howl. All the other abundant wildlife in the area is just an added bonus.

    As a sidebar, I’m one of those millions that spend a large amount of money each year on wildlife and bird watching. I certainly wouldn’t mind helping to support the activities I enjoy, but I’m not sure how it could be done. To require a license for bird or wildlife watching simply be unenforcible. Maybe we could start some sort of program like Ducks Unlimited, targeted to all wildlife and the people who enjoy it.

  19. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Actually there is a mechanism, just because you purchase a hunting lic and tags, does not mean you have to hunt, if every wildlife watcher out there actually purchased a duck stamp, a hunting lic, a deer tag, an elk tag, etc, even if they don’t use it, the money would continue to go to the services that ensure there is money to work on the reservations and such.

    Hunters pay these costs as well, in addition to the hunting fee’s, they buy binoculars, they buy cameras, they spend nights in hotels, they eat in resteraunts, they pay virtually all the same costs that a non-hunter pays, plus the additional cost of the hunting lic.

    There is also the Pit-Robertson act, that every hunter and non-hunter contributes to, depending on the equipment they buy.

    But again, if you want a say, you can buy the same lic and tags that hunters do, then you will receive the same surveys and phone calls asking your opinions…

    Just my .02

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Brian Ertz