Here’s an outdoor recreation stat worth breaking out at the water cooler. One out of every one hundred dollars of all goods and services produced in the United States in 2011 was due to hunting, fishing, and wildlife-associated recreation. Those numbers come froma preliminary report issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which estimates that roughly 90 million citizens, or 38 percent of the population age 16 or older, spent an estimated $145 billion on wildlife activities in the U.S. last year. In 2011, hunters spent $34 billion, anglers spent $41.8 billion, and wildlife watchers spent $55 billion.
Birdwatchers should be careful about stepping up to an angler and claiming they’re more important economically. The stats and ranks in the USFWS report differ from those in the Outdoor Industry Association's Outdoor Recreation Economy Report. According to that survey, roughly $23 billion was spent on hunting, roughly $33 billion was spent on wildlife viewing, and roughly $35 billion was spent on fishing. Third parties conducted the economic analysis and surveys used by the Outdoor Industry Association, and used different methods to compile stats for a lot more activities. You can read more about those numbers in "The Top 10 Outdoor Activities Based on Money Spent."
So, don’t treat the USFWS numbers as gospel. A few other things you might want to consider. The numbers are preliminary, with the final report due in November. Children are not included in the totals. And all of these numbers are estimates based on a survey of 48,627 households contacted by the U.S. Census Bureau for interviews. In other words, they are not hard stats compiled over time.
Still, this is the most comprehensive report on wildlife recreation put out by the USFWS, and it is put out just once every five years. So, if any birdwatchers, fishermen, and hunters do want to square off, now is your chance. Here’s a quick breakdown of how people spent their time and money watching, shooting, and hooking animals in 2011.
Yao Ming in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. Photo: Kristian Schmidt/WildAid
Yao Ming is a giant man, but he paled in comparison to the corpse of the elephant stripped of ivory that lay at his feet in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. The 7' 6", 310-pound, retired center from China, a former player for the NBA's Houston Rockets, landed in Africa on August 10 to raise awareness about the ills of poaching. His loyal fan base in China, where ivory is viewed as a status symbol whose price is rising, makes him an appealing celebrity to conservation organizations like WildAid. In 2006, he stopped eating shark fin soup and later began a campaign to prevent its consumption in China. This August in Africa, he visited endangered white rhinos, stood over the corpse of that dead elephant, and visited rooms stockpiled with loads of ivory seized so that it could not be shipped overseas. “I think we need to increase the public awareness of what ivory is made of,” Yao told the Associated Press. “The elephants, including rhinos, their numbers are decreasing.”
Sea turtle hatchling, Baguan Island, Philippines. Photo: Keith Ellenbogen
Examples of poor ocean health are too easy—unfortunately—to find in many parts of the world, especially along densely populated coastlines or in the midst of ocean gyres filled with plastic pollution. But what is the global state of ocean health? A group of marine scientists spent three years devising the Ocean Health Index, a new tool that provides some answers.
More than 60 scientists, researchers and organizations collaborated on the index, which was officially released on Wednesday. The index was designed to provide a framework and benchmark to measure the health of the oceans so that policy makers will have a point of reference to use in shaping future laws and regulations. Basically, it is intended to help us determine to what degree humans can continue to exploit the world’s oceans for food, products and tourism without diminishing their ability to sustain themselves. It sets the bar accordingly.
"A healthy ocean is not a pristine one," says Ben Halpern, the index’s lead author and a research scientist for the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). "A pristine ocean is not a practical goal. To strive for that is a futile effort and never achievable at global scale."
The index is based on 10 indicators, or "goals," such as tourism/recreation or biodiversity, that set various lenses through which to view ocean health. These 10 goals can be viewed at the global scale or per country, with 171 coastal countries included in the index. The United States rates horribly in the tourism/recreation goal, scoring just one out of 100. I asked Halpern what gives.
One point four million. That's how many cigarette butts volunteers collected during beach clean-up events in the United States in 2008 alone, according to Ocean Conservancy. Think of how many they missed. And consider all the butts you've seen tossed off chair lifts, or on river banks or on trails. Their collective impact isn't just an aesthetic one.
"A lot of the same elements that are toxic to people who inhale nicotine are also in the butts, and they are in high concentrations," says Martin Mulvihill, the executive director of the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Green Chemistry and the author of an article in Environmental Health News about research into biodisposable cigarette butts. "If a bird eats a few butts, it gets a high dose of those toxins."
I picked up the following video of off Krulwich Wonders, a science blog by NPR's Robert Krulwich. He doesn't ruin the surprise on his post, so I won't either. Mark Peters and his friends headed 20 miles west of Santa Cruz on August 6 to catch—and get video of catching—some albacore. Peters brought a homemade plastic torpedo housing with a GoPro inside to capture underwater video. He ended up with some pretty amazing footage that had little to do with tuna.