Over the past decade I've read numerous accounts on the rising popularity of watchable wildlife, which is a more inclusive and contemporary terminology than simply birdwatching.
Certainly, watchable wildlife includes observing birds, but it also embraces everything from a toddler chasing butterflies, to gramps pulling over on a gravel road to marvel at a moose wandering across the prairie.
It's likely that most people in North Dakota would fall under the spectrum of wildlife watcher. Nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates more than 50 million birdwatchers. Among those are the millions of anglers and hunters who identify more with their consumptive activity than an offseason Sunday drive to check out the spring duck migration or an early morning date observing dancing sharp-tailed grouse. Unknowingly, some hunters and anglers probably spend as much time observing wildlife as they do pursuing fish or game.
All of us - hunters, wildlife watchers and people who couldn't care less - contribute indirectly to wildlife management through our state and federal tax dollars, which support agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture programs intended to benefit wildlife.
Hunters and anglers contribute millions of additional dollars a year in license fees and excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and fishing equipment. For instance, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department does not receive any general state tax dollars. At the federal level, much of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and particularly land management and acquisition, is supported by waterfowl hunters who purchase an annual federal duck stamp.
Duck stamps have helped purchase waterfowl production areas, and state license fees help Game and Fish maintain wildlife management areas, all of which are open to use by all - with some restrictions - not just people who hunt and fish.
The excise taxes and license fees paid by hunters fund habitat management such as tree plantings, grass seedings and wetland restorations. While these are designed primarily to benefit game species, they almost always directly or indirectly benefit species that are not hunted, fished or trapped.
Over the past couple of decades, wildlife enthusiasts who are not necessarily hunters and anglers have led national efforts to provide a means for nonhunters and anglers to contribute specifically to wildlife management. While anyone can buy a duck stamp - and I know several nonhunters who do just that because duck stamp dollars help other birds besides ducks and geese - these efforts have pushed for a dedicated funding source so most everyone who participated in wildlife-related recreation would be a contributor.
Ten years ago there was the Conservation and Reinvestment Act or CARA which would have established a type of manufacturer's excise tax on some outdoor recreation equipment like binoculars, backpacks, etc. that would have provided increased funding research and management related to nongame species. This would have meant a sizable increase to the dollars states were and still are receiving from volunteer tax checkoffs for nongame or watchable wildlife purposes.
Eventually, CARA morphed into the State Wildlife Grants program, funded not by an excise tax but through congressional appropriation. State Wildlife Grants has helped with many management and research projects in North Dakota, benefitting golden eagles, fishers, otters and American martens, shorebirds and many other species.
The point is, in this day of stretched dollars for wildlife agency budgets, adding a source of funding for watchable wildlife is a big help to hunters and anglers who have carried the load for decades. And if you want to do more, buy a duck stamp - even if you don't hunt ducks, or don't hunt at all.
Money directed toward waterfowl habitat is a good start and benefits wildlife and peole who watch wildlife.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Depatment he can be reached by email:firstname.lastname@example.org