There’s a new initiative in Wyoming that’s changing the face of wildlife conservation funding, and it’s already had huge success in its first year.
It’s based on the state’s startling mountains, fish-filled rivers, and forests where bears and wolves roam – all of which make Wyoming unrivaled.
Wildlife management in the state is handled by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which is approximately 85% funded by hunters and anglers. Much of this is through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, as well as sporting goods taxes related to these activities through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts.
But as we all know, hunters and anglers aren’t the only ones fascinated by wildlife. The number one reason people travel to Wyoming is to see wildlife, and wildlife viewing alone accounts for nearly half a billion dollars in revenue for the state. It also employs over 10,000 people.
Yet the tourism industry, of which I am a part as a wildlife guide, contributes very little to the funding of wildlife conservation.
Taylor Phillips, owner of EcoTour Adventures, a wildlife tour company based in Jackson, Wyoming, felt the discrepancy was unfair and wanted to do something about it. Since founding his company in 2008, Phillips has donated more than $115,000 to nonprofits working to conserve the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
Phillips says he expected other wildlife tourism businesses to grow, but very few did. Wanting to change the narrative, Phillips teamed up with Chris McBarnes, president of the WYldlife Fund, a partner foundation of the state Department of Fish and Game that helps fund wildlife projects in Wyoming. Together, the two men created Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow, a non-profit organization that funds conservation by targeting businesses and people who depend on wildlife for a living. These are the companies that run wildlife tours and the hotels, restaurants and shops that cater to wildlife watchers.
By tapping into this tourist constituency, the new group “has tremendous potential to change the face of wildlife conservation funding in Wyoming,” Phillips said. Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, agrees, calling Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow “a crucial initiative” for wildlife conservation, especially as hunting revenues decline.
Donations are collected from individuals and businesses, and donors have the ability to select which conservation projects their money helps.
The nonprofit is also using the money to build wildlife crossings to minimize collisions with vehicles, as well as installing wildlife-friendly fencing in migration corridors. Other contributions go to restoring wetlands and installing radio collars for scientific studies.
Since October 2021, Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow has raised more than $200,000 for Wyoming wildlife from more than 70 businesses and dozens of individuals, and donated $84,900 in giveaways for wildlife conservation projects. Trout Unlimited received a $20,000 donation in 2020 for a project to prevent breeding cutthroat trout from becoming trapped in an irrigation system.
Leslie Steen of Trout Unlimited appreciated the help: “I’ve seen wildlife tours in the area and it’s really good to think that these same companies are now giving back to the native fish. »
Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow grew rapidly in its first year, and support from Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon gave it more exposure. Meanwhile, Phillips has spent a lot of time pushing the message that people who love wildlife need to step up. For too long, hunters and anglers have done the heavy lifting.
Hey fellow western states, maybe it’s time to get on board.
Kelsey Wellington contributes to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent non-profit organization dedicated to stimulating conversation about the West. She works as a wildlife guide in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
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