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Doug Leier, Published February 18 2010

Leier: Observation of wildlife is all around us

Over the past decade, I have 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.

These 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.

Money directed toward waterfowl habitat is a good start and benefits wildlife and people who watch wildlife.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov. Leier’s blog can be found online at www.areavoices.com