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Opportunities and Success Stories

The potential for nature tourism in our state is immeasurable. Texas is blessed with a diversity of wildlife habitats represented by deserts, bayous, forests, grasslands, mountains and canyons, rare species of birds and other animals... many found nowhere else in the United States.

Texans, like all Americans, are turning more and more to outdoor recreation activities. Nationally, outdoor recreation has more participants than the combined total of those who own a pet, tend a garden or attend professional sports events and more people photograph wildlife than play golf, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

The Great Texas Wildlife Trails
lead people to the best places to
enjoy abundant wildlife.

In 2000, Texas' share of the domestic travel spending was over six percent. Spending by visitors to Texas accounts for 3.7 percent of the Texas economy. The tourism industry is, for some areas of Texas, the most important source of economic development.4

Already established as a major economic force in Texas, tourism in 2000 directly supported 485,000 jobs with earnings of $11.2 billion. In tax dollars alone, tourism generated $676 million in local tax revenues (excluding real estate taxes) and $2.2 billion in state tax revenues, increases of 99 and 95 percent, respectively, over 1990.4

In 2001, an estimated $7.8 billion was spent on fishing, hunting and wildlife-associated recreation in Texas.5 About 6,000 birdwatchers visited tiny High Island during a six-week period in the spring of 1992, spending some $2.5 million in lodging and other travel-related activities. The total economic impact was estimated at between $4 million and $6 million in a two-month period. The coastal woodland area less than an hour's drive from downtown Houston is known internationally as a premier birding site.7

According to 1999 survey data, birdwatching visitors to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge spent an estimated $36.5 million on lodging, meals, gas and other purchases. 8 Between 75,000 and 100,000 tourists visit Aransas National Wildlife Refuge each year to view vast flocks of migratory birds, providing at least a $5 million boost to the local economy, according to Diane Probst, executive director of the Rockport-Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce.

According to the Rockport-Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce, birding tours operating out of Rockport/ Fulton harbor reported the number of its annual customers has grown to between 8,000 and 10,000 from less than 1,000 a decade ago. At $33 a head, the tours generate significant income for the area.

More than 10 years ago, Rockport inaugurated its first Hummer/Bird Celebration in honor of the hummingbirds that migrate through the area. Today, the festival attracts more than 5,000 visitors, who spend $1 million over the 4-day event, according to the Chamber of Commerce.

The 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that 31 percent of Americans 16 years and older say they observe, feed or photograph wildlife. In addition, 3.2 million people watch wildlife in Texas and over 1 million travel to engage in these activities.5

According to the 2000 National Survey of Recreation and the Environment, an estimated 94.1 million people took the time to view wildlife or wildflowers, while 69.4 million people watched birds.6

Landowners, business people and communities interested in developing nature based tourism can participate in the Great Texas Wildlife Trails. These driving trails have been developed to help birders and other wildlife enthusiasts find the best spots in the state to enjoy the outdoor bounty Texas has to offer. Private citizens, land managers, conservation groups, businesses, government agencies and communities are working together to build a network of trails leading people to the best places in the state to enjoy beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. Texas is known for great birding and wildlife watching opportunities, and Texans are known for their hospitality. Along the trails, travelers interested in nature, history and culture find lots to do, and local communities are there to provide plenty of Texas hospitality.

Texas was the first state in the nation to build wildlife viewing driving trails that provide economic incentives for landowners and communities to conserve habitats while providing recreational opportunities for the traveling public. The wildlife trails of Texas promote sustainable economic development, build public support for conservation of wildlife and habitats, and provide a marketing platform for a growing nature-based tourism industry.

Texas is one of the nation's leaders in nature tourism. In 2000, we completed The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, which links 308 premiere birdwatching sites and many communities along the Gulf Coast. To date, TPWD and our partners have distributed nearly 400,000 birding trail maps to interested citizens and visitors. Texas was the first state to create a birding trail, an idea that has been copied in at least 10 states so far.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is presently working on three new trails modeled after the Coastal Birding Trail. The Heart of Texas and Panhandle Plains Wildlife trails are scheduled for completion in early 2003. The recently-funded Prairies and Pineywoods Trail will be completed by 2004. The wildlife trails are immensely popular because they cater to the specific needs and interests of nature tourists, providing them the information they need to explore the back roads of Texas.

Ultimately, nature tourism leads to conservation by encouraging landowners and communities to conserve habitats, providing wildlife viewers greater opportunity and inviting people to experience for themselves the abundant natural resources of Texas. The wildlife trails encourage people to engage in the enjoyment of nature, thereby gaining greater appreciation and understanding of the importance of conserving wildlife and their habitats for present and future generations.