Monday, July 17, 2017

Yellowstone Park bobcat shows that ecotourism may make more money for rural areas than hunting

The bobcat prowls for water birds in Yellowstone
National Park, making it an object of wildlife
outfitters and photopgraphers. (Natl. Park Service)
A bobcat (well, at least one bobcat) is worth 1,000 times as much when you shoot it with a camera instead of a bullet, says one conservation expert. Mark Elbroch, lead scientist for the puma program of wild-cat conservation organization Panthera, researched the economic impact of one rare bobcat seen frequently in the Madison River area of Yellowstone National Park in recent years and came up with some surprising numbers, reports Jason Bittel for The Washington Post.

Wildlife outfitters and photographers frequently schedule expeditions in an effort to spot the elusive cat, because it preys on water birds. Elbroch contacted many of them and asked about their earnings (from sales of photos, for example) and expenses such as gas, guide fees and gear. He found that these ecotourists spent $308,105 on this one bobcat in one year. And Bittel reports that a 2012 study in British Columbia found that "bear viewing out-earned bear hunting by a margin of nearly $14 million."

Elbroch notes that states can also generate income from hunting licenses. In 39 states it is legal to hunt and trap bobcats. Considering the price of the pelt and the money the state makes from the hunting license, the value of the dead bobcat diminishes to a one-time profit of $315.17. Still, a famous bobcat is probably much more valuable than the average wild animal, writes Bittel. "It’s also not necessarily an either/or scenario. In the 2015-2016 season, close to 3,500 people bought trapping licenses in Wyoming, yielding $151,954 for the state, the study says. Just 284 of these licenses yielded bobcat pelts, none of which interfered with the ecotourism revenue created by the Madison River cat." He says there could be as many as 3.5 million bobcats in the U.S.

"Renowned biologist Stuart Pimm also sees value in these sorts of estimations," Bittel reports. "Pimm said there’s been a tendency on the part of some politicians to view the environment as an inconvenient hindrance to the success of American commerce. To which he says, and this is a direct quote: 'Poppycock.'"

Policies that harm ecotourism could hurt states like Wyoming, in which only mining brings in more money than tourism. Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk has expressed worry that the Interior Department's decision to remove Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the endangered-species list could affect visitor experiences. Other legislation has been proposed to take gray wolves off the endangered species list as well.

"For his part, Elbroch said the study should not be viewed as a call to end hunting and trapping altogether," Bittel reports, "but instead an opportunity for further conversation about reforming hunting and trapping regulations based on the best science available."

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