A snowy owl in Pennsylvania generates spending

As a hunter and a fisherman I know that our sports generate a lot of spending. We are of big economic importance here in the Keystone State and across the United States. Hunters and anglers purchase licenses, rods, reels, line, lures, guns, ammo, boots, specialized clothing and many other things that contribute to the economy.

In addition to economic multipliers that begin with our collective spending, specialized taxes — Pittman-Robertson on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment, and Dingell-Johnson on fishing equipment — collect many millions of dollars that go back to the states. The money helps to fund land purchases, wildlife research and other things that benefit all wildlife.

You might not agree, but these are referred to as “voluntary taxes,” because hunters and anglers asked for and supported these fees. I am proud when my tax dollars are put to good use.

Some of you might think this a little crazy, but on Saturday, January 28, my son-in-law John Carter and I got up at 4 a.m. to drive to Le Raysville, in Bradford County. We were not hunting or fishing — or even scouting. We made the over 300-mile round trip to hopefully see and photograph Pennsylvania’s only 2017 snowy owl.

Snowy owls live in the tundra in northern Canada and feed on lemmings and voles. Every winter a few of the large, white owls venture south and this year there is one, and only one, snowy owl in Pennsylvania. Some winters there might be four or five — sometimes none.

We arrived just before 8 a.m. and spotted the large, white owl perched majestically on top of a utility pole — about 150 yards from the highway. We also met Kevin Raymond, a local fish taxidermist who first spotted the snowy owl on January 2. Raymond filled us in on the latest happenings. Although he is fighting a bad case of Lyme disease, he has spent over 80 hours watching, photographing and helping others enjoy the snowy owl.

My camera equipment couldn’t do justice to the situation. Fortunately, Raymond supplied the beautiful photograph to accompany this blog.

The weather was pretty nasty that morning — cold, with a brisk wind pushing snow flurries across the open fields. The wind chill factor made it feel like it was well down in the teens — maybe the single digits. The weather got worse, with the flurries turning into a serious snow squall.

Even with the inclement weather, vehicles kept arriving — with more people pulling off to the side of the country road to watch the snowy owl. A few, including a man in an Amish buggy, were local, but most had traveled quite a distance just for a chance to see the rare, feathered visitor from the far north. People came from New York, Maryland, New Jersey and points in Pennsylvania as far away as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

One pair of birders form Maryland shared that they had traveled to see a snowy owl during each of the past five previous winters. I watched as over $100,000 worth of camera equipment, binoculars and spotting scopes were pointed at the owl.

I started to think about the economic importance of this one owl and bird watching in general. I did a little research.

An estimated $20 billion is spent by birders and bird watchers each year in the United States — and according to industry sources, the market is growing. The money goes toward travel and purchases birdseed, bird feeders, bird houses and other related equipment. Over $6.3 billion of this goes for just birdseed and feeders.

As an example, the owners of my local feed mill told me that wildlife food sales makes up a greater proportion of their business than livestock food and bedding.

Just thinking — wouldn’t it be great if a we tapped into this economic activity with a tax on bird food and feeders? Forty or 50 cents on a 40-pound bag of sunflower seed wouldn’t break anyone’s bank, and it could generate millions of dollars to help fund non-game programs. Here in Pennsylvania and in many other states, the non-game wildlife programs are largely funded by hunters and anglers. Birders and birdwatchers could do their share — and I think that most would be happy to.

So what are we waiting for?


Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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