The Economic Benefits of Wildlife Watching in Texas

According to a recent report to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department by Southwick Associates, in 2001, there were 1 million residents and non-residents of Texas who travel to observe, photograph or feed wildlife. These people spent 7.7 million recreation days pursuing these activities. Of those traveling to observe wildlife, 851,044 people were viewing birds and 600,712 were observing mammals (and a lot of people were looking at both). These travelers spent $228,779,736 on travel-related expenses. Texas residents and nonresidents spent $1.28 billion in Texas on equipment and services related to their wildlife watching activities.

Then there are those who watch wildlife at home. There are 2.9 million Texans who observe, photograph, or feed wildlife within 1 mile of their home (nearly 3 times more than those who travel). More than 84 percent feed birds at home and 70 percent say they observe wildlife near their home. Feeding wildlife was the most common activity of those who stay close to home, whereas observation is the most common activity for those who travel. Texas residents spent approximately 221 million man-days observing wildlife around their home.

It is interesting to look at the demographics of those who enjoy wildlife-related recreation. According to the Southwick report, wildlife watchers in Texas are 97 percent white, middle-aged (50-51 years), with an average household income of $50,000 to $60,000. About 45 percent are male. In comparison, hunters in Texas are 92 percent white, slightly younger (40.5 years), 90 percent male, with average household income of about $63,000. Anglers (both freshwater and saltwater) are also mostly white (94 percent), average age of 40-45 years, mostly male (70-80 percent), with an average household income of about $47,000 to $63,000.

What does all this mean to the economy of Texas? It means Texas would be a lot poorer if it weren't for the economic activity generated by wildlife watching and other types of wildlife-associated recreation. Let's look at what economists call Total Economic Effect (Output) for example. Original expenditures by wildlife recreationists generate rounds of additional spending throughout the economy. Retailers buy more inventory and pay bills, wholesalers buy more from manufacturers, and all these people pay employees who then spend their paychecks. The sum of all this activity is the total economic impact resulting from the original expenditures. The total economic effect from 2001 fish and wildlife-related recreation in Texas was estimated by Southwick Associates to be $10.9 billion. In other words, if hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers stopped spending money in Texas and did not spend these dollars on other items in state, the Texas economy would shrink by $10.9 billion. Of this total, sport fishing accounted for $4.6 billion, with $3.6 billion and $2.7 billion from hunting and wildlife watching, respectively.

A big part of economic impact can be measured in the number of jobs supported by the activity. Expenditures for wildlife-related recreation support jobs throughout Texas. Some businesses serve recreationists directly, such as retailers and restaurants. Other businesses, such as wholesalers, utilities, manufacturers, and grocers support the direct service providers. Total jobs, full and part time, supported in Texas in 2001 from fish and wildlife related activities were estimated at 96,700, with 41,300, 31,700, and 23,700 from hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, respectively.

Tax revenue generated by an activity is another way to look at overall impact to the local and state economy. According to the Southwick report, state sales tax generated from 2001 fish and wildlife-related recreation in Texas was estimated at $298 million ($278 million by residents and $20 million by non-residents). Wildlife watchers accounted for $80.3 million of the total, while anglers and hunters generated $124.8 million and $93.0 million, respectively. The federal government ultimately earns $453 million from fish and wildlife recreation in Texas via income tax revenues.

Tourism is the third largest industry in Texas according to the Texas Travel Industry Association, and nature-based tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of this industry. Nature related tourism offers Texans the opportunity to build and diversify economies based on conserving the natural resources and rural lifestyles important today and for future generations.

For more information, see: Nature Tourism or contact Nature Tourism Coordinator at 512-389-4396.

Reference: Southwick, Robert and Thomas Allen. 2003. The 2001 Economic Benefits of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Watching in Texas. Southwick Associates, Fernandina Beach, Florida. TPWD Contract No. 116470.