In New York, people who watch birds and other wildlife generate billions in ecotourism revenue annually - something many people probably don't know.
Audubon New York recently launched an initiative to highlight the economic impact of bird watching and encourages ecotourism promotion.
Bird watching is the fastest growing outdoor recreation in New York and across the country, according to the Audubon New York website. It also contributes billions each year to state and local economies. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, in New York alone 3.8 million people watch birds and other wildlife, and generate approximately $1.6 billion in ecotourism revenue annually.
Chautauqua County organizations are participating in Audubon New York’s “Birds Mean Business” campaign to show the economic impact of birding to local businesses and municipalities.
To show this economic trend first hand to businesses and municipalities across the state, Audubon New York has launched the "Birds Mean Business" campaign. They created business-type cards that birders can leave behind with local businesses in the places they visit to watch birds.
"We saw an opportunity to highlight the economic impact of bird watching and make people more aware of it," said Sean Mahar, Audubon New York director of government relations. "But we also saw a strong need to do it, as well, because in this economic downturn, past administrations were looking to cut environmental funding projects because they didn't see them as important to the economic recovery of the state."
The initiative encourages birders to fill out the back of the cards with where they are from and to leave them everywhere they spend money, as well as at chambers of commerce, development agencies and local government official offices, while they are out birding to show that they were there.
"We wanted to show elected officials, businesses and communities that people really are bringing in the bucks just from bird watching," said Mahar.
He said that since they formally launched the initiative in May, they've had a steady trickle of birders contacting them for cards. "We've had very positive feedback so far, and we know people are starting to use these cards. We've started to hear back from a few businesses that have received them already," he said.
The cards are free and birders can get them by emailing Sean Mahar at email@example.com.
The Birds Means Business cards were handed out to the approximately 100 attendees of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute's fourth annual Birding Festival recently.
"(Leaving the card) is a message that the reason I'm here spending money in your community is that I'm a bird watcher," said Mark Baldwin, RTPI director of education. "It's to help engender a sense of the economic benefit of birding as a economic engine in communities, especially those that are interested in developing their capability to market themselves as ecotourist destinations,"
According to Baldwin, the economic impact of bird watching is hard to quantify. He said when there is a festival, they can count the amount of people and try to calculate the economic impact, but on any given weekend there are people in Chautauqua County birding. He compared it to the snowmobile tourism in the county, which can be counted because they have to get a license, but people don't need anything like that to grab a set of binoculars and go bird watching.
"It's something that sometimes is sort of beneath the radar," he said. "People don't realize how many people are involved in the hobby of bird watching. It is really huge and is something that is growing. I think it's important for communities to recognize how many people who are out there are birders."
He said that pretty much year-round Chautauqua County is an important destination for bird watchers. This is huge destination for neotropical migrating birds that come here specifically to breed, he explained. There are birds that you would think you would have to go to Costa Rica to see, he said, but you can actually see the birds in their breeding plumage right here.
"One of the wonderful things about the area is that there is good birding year round, because we have the large bodies of water, the woods, the wetlands and the different habitats. It can be a year round opportunity for people who visit the area," said Ruth Lundin, Jamestown Audubon Society president.
She said that the primary reason why out-of-towners and vacationers come the Jamestown Audubon Society is for birding.
"It's probably not the primary reason that most people come here, but I think it's an important additional reason why they might stay an extra day, because they want to go out and do a little birding, and they might go to part of the county that they might not otherwise go to," she said. "It enriches their experience while they're here and encourages them to stay longer or maybe come back again."