Yellowstone East: The Economic Benefits of Restoring the Adirondack Ecosystem with Native Wildlife
John Laundre' and Christopher Spatz
Wildlife watching tourism, from Yellowstone National Park to the harbor seal restored beaches of Cape Cod, from birding in Costa Rican rain forests to the archetypal African safari, is an international economic driver worth hundreds of billions of dollars. In the United States, $55 billion are spent annually on wildlife watching, nearly 20% by New York State residents. New Yorkers spend $10.6 billion every year on wildlife watching: $6.5 billion out-of-state, $4.1 billion in-state. New York wildlife watching revenues exceed combined in-state fishing and hunting revenues of $3.6 billion. Generating 12% of the state's $33.8 billion in consumer outdoor recreation spending, wildlife watching creates about 36,600 New York jobs, $1.5 billion in wages and salaries, and $336 million in state and local tax revenue. Wildlife watching in New York State is big business.
Recognizing both the financial rewards and increased economic potential of wildlife watching tourism, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in April of 2013 launched the Watchable Wildlife Program (WWP). Requiring minimal capitol and infrastructure investment, the WWPâ€™s guide and maps simply point the public to existing bird observatories, nature walks, fish-watching and wildlife rehab centers, where the local, regional and state economies all reap those nation-leading $4.1 billion in state revenues.
As the Eastâ€™s first and most celebrated wilderness reserve, tourism in Adirondack Park, including 16 DEC wildlife watching sites, currently attracts 7-10 million visitors who generate $1.2 billion annually.
Together with black bear, moose and white-tailed deer, once native elk, bison, wolves and cougars created the Adirondack ecosystem. Proposals to restore the full ecologic functioning of Adirondack Park with these native, missing wildlife have long been considered.
Elk grazed the region's broader rivers like the Saranac as late as the 1820s. The shaggy symbol of the American Prairie, the bison, once ranged east to Massachusetts, north to Ontario, and south to Florida. Wolves coursed the Adirondack valleys, and cougars shadowed the forests, before being wiped out by state-sponsored bounty programs late in the 19th century. Now imagine those DEC wildlife watching sites restored with their big, native wildlife. By enhancing existing DEC wildlife watching locations like Au Sable Marsh, Ferd's and Silver Lake Bogs with marquee elk and bison, by restoring famously elusive cougars and woodland wolves whose mere presence in other eastern regions are proven tourism boosters, the Adirondacks would be positioned as an international wildlife watching destination, a Yellowstone East.
Many natural areas throughout the country benefit from restored native wildlife watching, drawing tens of thousands of tourists and producing tens of millions in direct revenues, including,
- Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area: Penned herds of elk and bison attract 130,000 visitors each year to this west Kentucky/Tennessee region, adding about $47 million to the region's $200 million tourist economy.
- Elk Country, PA: A restored herd of 800 elk draws 200,000 visitors annually, creating both wildlife watching tourism and hunting revenues for Pennsylvania estimated at $66 million.
- Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge: Though tourists will rarely see an endangered panther, the tiny, 24,000-acre refuge in southwest Florida draws 8,000 visitors, generating about $13 million annually.
- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge: Seldom seen restored red wolves attract 25,000 families, contribute $37.5 million a year to the eastern North Carolina economy, and have boosted regional tourism by 19%.
- Yellowstone National Park: The wildlife watching capitol of the Western Hemisphere attracts 1.8 million of its annual 3.3 million tourists for wildlife watching, generating $675 million.
Based on these regionâ€™s wildlife tourism visitation and economic revenues, we estimate that restoring native elk, bison, wolves and cougars to Adirondack Park will,
- Attract 329,000 â€“ 470,000 additional visitors annually.
- Generate up to $398 million in additional New York State wildlife watching revenues; $583 million applying standard economic multipliers.
- Create up to 3540 jobs additional jobs.
- Add a minimum of $90 million in wages and salaries, and $20 million in state and local taxes.
Restoring native wildlife can produce at least 14 times the projected $22.7 million annual revenue for the Big Tupper Lake Resort
, and 7 times the current $49 million annual Adirondack revenues from deer hunting.
As well, unlike Yellowstone, a dayâ€™s drive from its closest metropolitan areas, Adirondack Park is within a day of 84 million people. 84 million potential wildlife recreationists enjoying wildlife tracking classes and vacations, darting, howling and photography safaris, and big game hunting. With the Adirondack's central Northeast location so close for so many, and by redirecting a fraction of the $6.5 billion in wildlife watching spent by New Yorkers out-of-state to an upstate Yellowstone East, revenue estimates are conservative.
Additionally, each $1 invested in the DEC's Environmental Protection Fund
for open space and wildlife habitat returns $7 to the state economy. Representing state, provincial and territorial fish and wildlife agencies, an Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies economic study
similarly found that federal funds dedicated to wildlife from hunting and fishing equipment sales taxes produced a return of $11 - $21 in purchases for every $1 spent on wildlife taxes by manufacturers. Based on these returns, our primary projection of $398 million in wildlife watching revenue would return from $2.7 - $8.3 billion for New York State every year.
Finally, though wildlife watching, fishing and hunting produce millions in state sales taxes annually, not a single state supplements the ever-present need for wildlife funding by reinvesting state wildlife recreation revenues back into these industries. By reinvesting just 25 cents from every $100 spent in New York to a dedicated wildlife fund - reinvested from state sales taxes already collected from wildlife watching, fishing and hunting - New York can return more than $300 million to its wildlife resources each year. Representing about 3 times the DECâ€™s current annual budget, revenues can be incentivized by promoting wildlife recreation sales as benefitting New Yorkâ€™s wildlife, a federal wildlife funding and game industry marketing strategy familiar to every angler and hunter cited above in the Association of Wildlife Agencies' study.
Compatible with, and even necessary for current Adirondack forestry practices, presenting less risk to public safety than average daily activities of Adirondack residents, and producing by far the largest return on investment of any economic proposal for the region, the economic benefits of restoring the ecological balance of Adirondack Park with native elk, bison, wolves and cougars would restore, as well, the very essence of its â€œForever Wildâ€ charter.
As the leader in U.S. wildlife watching, there is no state in better position than New York, and no region in a more promising position than the Adirondacks to pilot the nation merging ecosystem recovery with economic sustainability by restoring the ancient, wildlife pageantry to Adirondack Park.
Under the original Article XIV of the New York State Constitution, Adirondack Park "...shall be forever kept as wild forest lands". For many, wild forest lands are not truly wild unless they support their original complement of native plants and animals. When the Adirondack region came under the protection of the State in 1894, an enlightened public understood what had been lost and began efforts to recover an abused system. Forests were re-established. Controlled timber and logging are again possible in the region. Native wildlife species were restored, most notably the bald eagle and white-tailed deer. With the recovery of the forests, species such as the black bear, moose, fisher and bobcat have returned.
The Adirondacks, like the â€œBig Fiveâ€ mammals of the African Serengeti, originally had its "Big Six" mammal species: deer, elk and moose, bison, wolves and cougars. The presence of these Big Six species created the Adirondack ecosystem. The absence of four of these species - elk, bison, wolves, and cougars - leaves a conspicuous void in both ecosystem structure and function to maintain the Adirondack ecosystem. As well, the absence of these species keeps Adirondack Park from being â€œforever kept as wild forest lands.â€ Consequently, restoring elk, bison, wolves and cougars would provide the missing pieces essential for returning Adirondack Park to a close approximation of its "Forever Wild" state.
Decades of research
have determined that restoring the relationship between top herbivore and carnivore species re-establishes ecosystem health and integrity. Restoring ecosystem functioning alone provides one of the strongest justifications for "rewilding" (returning native species to their native habitat) the Adirondacks with elk, bison, wolves and cougars. And for New Yorkers, restoring these big, charismatic wildlife will provide not only the original essence of a forever wild, functioning Adirondack ecosystem. As demonstrated in other regions and countries, restoring charismatic wildlife can significantly enhance through wildlife watching tourism and big game hunting the Adirondack economy.
The Empire State: Wildlife Watching King
An important element of many rural areas such as Adirondack Park is tourism from outdoor recreation. A major part of this recreation comes from wildlife viewing. Each year, almost 72 million people in the United States engage in watching wildlife, spending nearly $55 billion. This is especially true for New York State. According to the 2011 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation
, New York wildlife watchers outspend every other state in the nation, generating $10.6 billion annually: $6.5 billion out-of-state, $4.1 billion in-state. By comparison, New York anglers spend $2 billion in-state, hunters $1.6 billion. New York State residents generate nearly 20% of the nation's wildlife watching revenue. The Empire State is wildlife watching King.
Bundled under Outdoor Recreation
, wildlife watching generates over 12% of the $33.8 billion in New York Stateâ€™s consumer outdoor recreation spending, 305,000 related jobs, $12.5 billion in wages and salaries, and $2.8 billion in state and local tax revenue. Recognizing the value of watching wildlife, in April of 2013, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) launched the Watchable Wildlife Program
, including a viewing guide and maps highlighting 110 locations in New York State
from which to view wildlife: bird observatories, nature walks, fish-watching and wildlife rehab centers. Unlike certain forms of tourism and economic development that threaten the Parkâ€™s conservation mandate, wildlife watching requires minimal capital investment and infrastructure improvements. Consequently, wildlife watching is a â€œGreenâ€ big business, one New York State and the DEC are promoting in order to reap its considerable revenues. Simply point the public to the wildlife, and local, regional and the state economy collect those $4.1 billion.
Accordingly, restoring the Adirondackâ€™s â€œForever Wildâ€ character with its missing wildlife will significantly boost what is already a robust recreation and tourism industry, especially in areas of the western park where tourism is demonstrably lighter. The Park and its natural wonders, including 16 DEC wildlife watching sites
, currently attract between 7-10 million visitors each year, visitation matched by only one U.S. national park: Great Smokey Mountains
in the southern Appalachians. Adirondack visitors generate about $1.2 billion in revenue
. Of all the industries in the Adirondacks, tourism represents the largest share of labor income (13.5%) and of employment (17.6%) in the region. The natural beauty of the Park is also attracting retirees (18.2% of current resident population)
, who are infusing their retirement income into the local economy. As well, programs like Clarkson Universityâ€™s Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work
has begun reversing the decades-long loss of younger residents
who leave for college or the military by attracting young families in support of Green tech-commerce.
Together with black bear, moose and white-tailed deer, once native elk, bison, wolves and cougars created the Adirondack ecosystem. Proposals to restore the full ecologic functioning of Adirondack Park with these native, missing wildlife have long been considered.
Elk grazed the region's broader rivers like the Saranac as late as the 1820s
(p.389). The shaggy symbol of the American Prairie, the bison, once ranged east to Massachusetts, north to Ontario, and south to Florida. Wolves coursed the Adirondack valleys, and cougars shadowed the forests, before being wiped out by state-sponsored bounty programs late in the 19th century. By enhancing existing DEC wildlife watching locations like Au Sable Marsh, Ferd's and Silver Lake Bogs with marquee elk and bison, by restoring famously elusive cougars and woodland wolves whose mere presence in other eastern regions are proven tourism boosters, the Adirondacks would be positioned as an international wildlife watching destination, a Yellowstone East.
By supplementing an established DEC wildlife watching campaign, wildlife watching tourism complements the growing sectors of the Adirondack economy, especially for the rural habitats of beaver ponds, bogs and lakes west of Route 30 along stretches of Routes 3, 28, and 8. Wildlife watching would enhance and generate investment in an existing tourism industry without burdening resources or adding conflict to the regionâ€™s need to balance conservation with development. Indeed, restoring native wildlife to its wild lands reinforces the very essence of what the Adirondacks mean for many.
Measures that promote wildlife watching tourism in Adirondack Park can enhance the financial well-being of people both living and working in the region. And, as noted in ADK Futures
(Thoughts on Ecotourism in the Adirondacks), Costa Ricaâ€™s global model for wildlife watching tourism could direct revenues to perpetually underfunded programs like New York Stateâ€™s Teaming With Wildlife
, dedicated to the conservation, protection and preservation of New Yorkâ€™s at-risk, non-game species and their habitats. Research shows wildlife tourists
are pleased to pay for wildlife funding, especially when their contribution is dedicated directly to the resource.
Based on the considerable tourism magnet that wildlife absent from the Adirondacks draw to other regions of the country, we will consider the potential economic benefits for restoring the Adirondack ecology with missing elk, bison, wolves and cougars. Restoring these native species can supplement by hundreds of millions of dollars annually the revenue from wildlife recreation tourism.
Yellowstone East: The Proposal
We will consider how restoring elk, bison, wolves and cougars can enhance the economy of the region by,
- Increasing Adirondack Park visitation and wildlife watching tourism.
- Increasing hunting opportunities and revenues, both directly and indirectly.
We also consider how restorations might affect other aspects of Adirondack life, including,
- Lowering the risk from vehicle collisions and deer-related diseases.
- Comparing the statistical risk of conflict between the restored species and residents with daily Adirondack risks.
- The opportunity to fulfill the mandate and vision of those who established the Forest Preserve 120 years ago.
The Economic Value of Big Mammals
Among the primary attractions that draw tourists to state and federal parks are the large, native mammals. Regions, states and the federal government regularly produce visitation and economic reports on wildlife watching tourism, including the average expenditure each state generates from individual wildlife watching trips. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
highlights these trip expenditures in its widely cited wildlife recreation surveys every four years.
In a 2008 study of Yellowstone National Park
(YNP), 1.8 million people, or 55% percent of the Parkâ€™s 3.3 million annual visitors, traveled specifically to see animals such as elk, bison, grizzlies and wolves at an individual trip expenditure of $375 for regional visitors, and $802 for those from out-of-state, generating $675 â€¨million in the YNP region.
At Elk Country, Central Pennsylvania, a restored elk herd of 800 animals attracts 200,000 visitors annually
, generating an estimated $65.8 million in revenue based on 2011 Pennsylvania resident wildlife watching trip spending of $329
While visitation in Great Smoky Mountains National Park had declined in 2001 for the entire park, it nearly doubled from 85,000 to 150,000 where elk were reintroduced to the remote Cataloochee area
At Land Between the Lakes (LBL) National Recreation Area along the Kentucky/Tennessee border, penned herds of elk and bison attract more than 130,000 visitors
each year (from 35 states documented one year) from the 2 million who annually visit the region. With Kentuckyâ€™s 2011 $361
(p.12) wildlife watching trip expenditure, LBLâ€™s elk and bison watching visitors contribute an estimated $46.9 million to the region's $600 million tourism economy.
The economic power of big carnivores is equal to or a bigger draw than big ungulates. In Yellowstone, grizzlies and wolves (55% and 44%, respectively) are the animals â€¨visitors most wish to see. In fact, wolves were the sole attraction forâ€¨ 3.7% of YNP visitors (94,000 people per year
). In the Yellowstone study, wolf watching added â€¨$35.5 million to the YNP region, exceeding pre-restoration estimates of â€¨$27.74 million annually. Including multiplier effects - accounting forâ€¨ indirect and induced wolf-watching expenditures - Yellowstoneâ€™s wolvesâ€¨ alone contributed about $58 million annually to the YNP region.
restored to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge attract over 25,000 families, contribute $37 million each year to the eastern North Carolina economy, and have boosted tourism to the region by 19%. Red wolf howling safaris attracted over 1,000 visitors in 2008.
In Algonquin Provincial Park
, three hours northwest of Adirondack Park, 8,000 - 10,000 visitors annually participate in eastern wolf summer howling safaris.
The rural village of Ely, Minnesota (population 3,640), gateway to northeast Minnesotaâ€™s 2,500 wolves, has attracted as many as 50,000 tourists a year from all 50 states, 24% of whom (12,000) came specifically to see the International Wolf Center
Southwest Florida's tiny 26,000 acre Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge
attracts 8,000 visitors a year. Multiplied by Floridaâ€™s $887
(p. 12) wildlife watching trip expenditure, the Panther Refuge produces an estimated $7.1 million annually. With a staff of 18 and an annual operating budget of $1.5 million, the Panther Refugeâ€™s estimated multiplier effect generates nearly $13 million every year.
In southwest Texas, 300,000 - 350,000 people a year visit Big Bend National Park, where the focal animal is the cougar. The number that visit for the rare chance to see a cougar or to track cougar sign has not been calculated. However, if the cougarâ€™s draw to Big Bend is similar to the wolfâ€™s draw to Yellowstone (i.e. 3.7% of visitors come specifically to â€¨experience the presence of large carnivores), multiplied by the Texas $463
(p.12) wildlife watching trip expenditure, the cougar produces $5.6 million annually for the Big Bend region.
Wildlife Watching & Adirondack Park
Large mammals are economic engines for regions and for national parks. Consequently, given the facts that,
- Adirondack Park is the largest park (Federal or State) in the Lower 48 states.
- Historically, areas within the Adirondack region had a full complement of large mammals, including elk, bison, moose, white-tailed deer, black bears, wolves and cougars, mammals whose millennial presence created the Adirondack ecosystem.
- Currently, the only large mammals in the Park are white-tailed deer, moose, and black bears.
The missing species of elk, bison, wolves and cougars are proven economic drivers vital to ecosystem functioning. Thus, we propose that restoring Adirondack Park with these native species will provide both a significant economic stimulus to tourism while recovering the ecological, forever wild functioning of the Adirondack ecosystem.
Projected Adirondack Revenue from Wildlife Watchingâ€¨â€¨
Given New Yorkâ€™s U.S.-leading wildlife watching interest and spending, how many additional tourists might be drawn specifically to the restored elk, bison, wolves and cougars of Adirondack Park?
Elk â€¨& Bison
As noted above, elk watching is a proven attraction across the country. Visitation to the remote Cataloochee area of Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) increased by 65,000 after the restoration of elk. 200,000 annually visit the restored elk herds of central Pennsylvania.
21% of Yellowstoneâ€™s wildlife watching tourists visit to see the shaggy symbol of the American prairie, the bison, whose pre-colonial range extended east to Massachusetts, north to Ontario, and south to Florida. In South Dakota, 1.5 million tourists are drawn annually to Custer State Parkâ€™s restored herd of 1,300 bison.
Using as a gauge the annual 135,000 elk and bison tourists visiting Land Between the Lakes, multiplied by New Yorkâ€™s $535 (p. 12) average individual wildlife watching trip expenditure, restored elk and bison would generate annual projected revenues for the Adirondacks of $72 million.
Wolves & Cougarsâ€¨â€¨
If wolves provided a 3.7% increase to Yellowstone visitation, and a 19% boost to eastern North Carolina tourism, we can add conservatively at least one percentage point for the combined species of wolves and cougars (4.7% total). With the Park attracting 7-10 million annual visitors, wolves and cougars would increase Adirondack Park visitation from 329,000 - 470,000 people every year. Applying New Yorkâ€™s individual wildlife trip expenditure of $535 (not including the â€¨out-of-state, non-resident Yellowstone trip average of $802, in 2005), wolf and cougar-related tourism would provide an additional $176 - $251 million a year to the Adirondack economy.
Together, restoring the Adirondackâ€™s missing, native species of elk and bison ($72 million), wolves and cougars ($176 - $251 million) could generate $336 - $398 million additionally for the regionâ€™s annual economy. With the standard multiplier effect for the New York leisure and hospitality industry of 1.5, the yearly economic impact of rewilding the Adirondacks based solely on non-consumptive wildlife â€¨viewing ranges from $504 - $583 million.
It should be noted that estimates are deliberately conservative. Unlike Yellowstone, which takes from one to several days drive from major metropolitan areas, e.g. Salt Lake City, Denver, Los Angeles, the Adirondacks are less than a dayâ€™s drive from New York City (23 million), Boston (7.8 million), Philadelphia (7 million), Toronto (5.5 million), Ottawa (1.2 million), and Montreal (3.8 million). Compared to Yellowstone, Adirondack Park as a destination for viewing a suite of marquee wildlife is within a dayâ€™s drive of 84 million people. The potential is significant to increase the projected number of visitors, visits and revenues as the Adirondackâ€™s reputation as a destination for world-class wildlife watching is marketed and established.
Additionally, a Land for Public Trust study found that for each $1 invested in open space and wildlife habitat from the NYSDEC's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) returns $7 to the state economy, and that open space protection through EPF was critical for maintaining and growing wildlife recreation revenues. Commissioned by state, provincial, and territorial fish and wildlife agencies, an Association of Wildlife Agencies economic analysis of funding provided by equipment excise taxes from the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Acts produced an $11 - $21 return on purchases for every $1 spent on taxes by manufacturers, an 1100% return on investment. A $7 - $21 return on our primary projection of $336 - $398 million would generate from $2.35 - $8.35 billion in wildlife watching revenue multipliers for New York State.
Compatibility & Comparison with Existing Adirondack Activities
In addition to wildlife viewing, at least two of these species, elk and bison, can provide revenue as game species. Currently, there are 60,000 - 80,000 white-tailed deer in Adirondack Park. Each year hunters take about 7,500 deer. With an average hunter success rate of 14%, approximately 50,000â€¨ hunters use the Park each hunting season. At $984 per trip (p. 10), deer hunting generates about $49.2 million annually for Adirondack Park.
In 2012, Pennsylvaniaâ€™s modest elk population of 800 animals produced the sale of 18,613 elk lottery applications for just 65 elk hunting licenses. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation reports that elk hunters spend $1201 annually. A comparable Adirondack elk hunt could add from $80,000 - $120,000 in multiplier revenues, while elk lottery applications fees ($10.70) in Pennsylvania produced state revenues of nearly $200,000.
Trophy hunts in Custer State Park for a single, senescent bull bison generates $5,000. Utah produces $100,000 in application/lottery fees annually to hunt a handful of the stateâ€™s bison.
Additionally, with the Adirondackâ€™s moose population currently estimated at 800 - 1000 (larger than Pennsylvaniaâ€™s hunted elk herd), the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont see significant revenues from moose hunting. In 2012, Maine sold 94,029 moose â€¨hunting lottery applications for 3,725 moose permits (2895 moose taken; a 78% success rate far higher than deer hunting) totaling $1.16 million, for estimated moose hunting trip expenditures of $2.1 million ($565 per Maine hunting trip, p. 10), and $3.1 million in estimated multiplier revenues. In 2013, New Hampshire sold more than 13,000 lottery applications for 275 moose permits, while Vermont sold 10,378 moose lottery applications for 355 permits. Clearly, moose hunting is a lucrative potential market for New York State.
Another untapped but potentially large â€œhuntingâ€ market is in catch-and-release hunting. As with catch-and-release fishing, the objective is to "count coup," getting close enough to photograph big game, or, employ advanced digital camera scopes mounted on long guns to record the â€œkill shot.â€ The popularity of such catch-and-release hunting appears to be growing. The American Whitetail Authority now sponsors and administers the Whitetail Pro Series competition each year employing blanks and digital scopes in the field that record and award cross-hair location marksmanship with a hunt's realism.
South African darting safaris of the Big 5 game species combine darting rhinos, elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards and lions for research with ticking surrogate â€œkillsâ€ (darting also requires the intensity of closer range) for the Safari Club Internationalâ€™s record book. At $9,000, darting safaris are considerably less expensive than the $20,000 - $50,000 for a traditional South African Big Five hunt. Proceeds from some safaris go directly to conserving the darted species.
Catch-and-release hunts also need not await game species to achieve sustainable hunting populations, nor are they limited by traditional hunting seasons; they can operate year-round, with all of the attendant economic benefits. â€¨â€¨
With the return of forest cover to the Adirondacks, an active forestry industry has developed in the region. Direct logging activity on private lands injects millions of dollars into the regional economy. Although some argue that logging is not compatible with many recreational activities, ironically, of the various activities in the region, selective logging on private lands may be among the more compatible human activities with rewilding goals.
In pre-colonial eras, the eastern forest was a patchwork of forest and open areas. These open areas were created by beaver, by blow-downs and fires, by the natural aging and death of forest stands, and by the native people. It is this patchy nature of the forest within a larger mature forest that sustained grazing species such as elk and bison, as they moved from one open patch to another to feed while using forested areas for other life activities.
Wolves and cougars are more successful in a landscape of forest and open patches. Consequently, a certain amount of patchiness on private lands within the forested landscape of protected areas in the Adirondack forest could provide a landscape beneficial to these species. If managed wisely, logging rotations within private lands would provide that degree of patchiness required for both healthy forest succession and rewilding efforts, while enhancing open wildlife watching locations, especially along rivers and wetlands so popular in places like Yellowstone and Custer State Park.
One of the primary concerns with the restoration of large carnivores is the risk to human safety. The threat â€¨from carnivores is immensely smaller than risks that the residents of Adirondack Park faceâ€¨ daily, including the threat from other wildlife. The risk from wolves is so low it is negligible. There are about fourâ€¨ contact cougar incidents annually in the United States, a number that is on the decline. Just threeâ€¨ people have been killed by cougars in the U.S. since 1998, none since 2008. The risk of a cougar attack in the U.S. is 1 in 300 million. In comparison, the average risk of being the victim of a violent crime inâ€¨â€¨ Adirondack Park is 1 in 73,016. Each year, there are more than 850 incidents of â€¨violent crime in the Adirondack region. In comparison, predicted attacks by â€¨either a cougar or a wolf is one every 77 years.
Compared to other wildlife, white-tailed deer presence in the Park presents â€¨a far greater risk to human safety than reintroducing wolves and cougars. Nationally, 1.6 million vehicle/deer collisions annually injure 20,000, killâ€¨ 150 and account for $5.7 billion in damage/medical/mitigation, exceeding all other wildlifeâ€¨ threats combined. In New York, each year there are 70,000 - 80,000 deer collisions, or a risk of 1 in 160. This equates to approximately 550 deer collisions annually in Adirondack Park. If returning wolves and cougars reduces the deer herd, they could actually decrease the public risk of being injured by a white-tailed deer.
Another growing concern to people in Adirondack Park is Lyme disease. Though â€¨not as prevalent in the Park as in downstate regions, there are about 2,000â€¨ cases per year reported for the counties in and around Adirondack Park. The â€¨well-established vector for this disease is the deer tick, which flourishesâ€¨ when deer numbers are high. If wolves and deer limit the deer population â€¨in the Park, they could actually contribute to reducing the incidence of Lyme disease.
Habitat: In New York?
The case is frequently made that the eastern United States in general, and the Adirondacks, specifically, are too developed and too populated to support a suite of big mammals. However, as noted above, elk have been reintroduced successfully to several eastern states, where populations have expanded into adjacent states and regions. A 1998 Cornell University study found adequate elk habitat in northern, western and southern areas of Adirondack Park, areas and riparian habitat like the Saranac River, where elk, and bison, likely appeared historically (p. 389). Wild bison have been restored to Nature Conservancy grasslands habitat in both Nebraska and Illinois, and have been successfully reintroduced to woodland reserves across eastern Europe.
Coexisting in an area of similar size and more than twice the human population of the continental United States, wolves have recolonized significant regions throughout Europe. Italy is comparable in size to California, with 22 million more people than Californiaâ€™s 38 million. Italy supports a population of 600 European wolves in the Apennine Mountains along the entire length of the Italian Peninsula, including packs within an hour of Rome. The northwest Iberian Peninsula of Portugal and Spain sustains 2,500 wolves; the Carpathian Alps of Romania, 3,500. Their current number in Europe is estimated between 18,000 - â€¨25,000 - a number several times the Lower 48â€™s 6,000 wolves - coexisting in regions and countries with far higher human densities than the Adirondacks will ever have.
Closer to home, mixed residential, farming and forest habitat similar to the Adirondacks in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Michigan Upper Peninsula have supported 4,500 wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceâ€™s 2011 Eastern Wolf Status Assessment Report cites several habitat studies, including the most recent that found Adirondack Park could support as many as 460 wolves. A 2000 Cornell University study found Adirondack residents were evenly split with respect to approving or disapproving of restoring wolves to the Adirondacks: 42% approve, 41% disapprove, 17% neither approved nor disapproved. Statewide, a majority of New York residents (60%) approved, 34% neither approved nor disapproved, and 6% disapproved.
Cougars have proven to be nearly as adaptable as coyotes, breeding on the edges (and even within some city limits) of every metropolitan area from Rapid City, South Dakota west to Seattle and south to San Diego. A 2-year test-release of 19 Texas cougars to Georgiaâ€™s Greater Okefenokee Swamp and Florida's Osceola National Forest concluded that cougar restorations to eastern landscapes are biologically feasible. A 2013 SUNY Oswego peer-reviewed habitat analysis found that Adirondack Park can support as many as 350 cougars. A 2014 Wildlife Conservation Society human dimension survey found that a large percentage of both residents and visitors to Adirondack Park supported some form of human assistance in restoring cougars to the region.
Big Tupper Lake: Economic Comparison to Rewilding
Recently, the renovation and expansion of the Big Tupper Lake Resort has been approved and heralded by some as a significant influx of much needed revenue for Adirondack Park. Estimates from the revenue gained over the 15-year construction phase of the project are $260 million, or $17.3 million per year. The expanded resort is estimated to increase Park visitation by an additional 100,000 people annually with an added increase in revenue of around $22.7 million. Comparing Big Tupper Lakeâ€™s projected revenue to projected estimates from rewilding Adirondack Park, we find â€¨that rewilding would produce at least 14 times the projected revenue from Big Tupper Lake Resort.
Wildlife Reinvestment: Rewarding Wildlife for the Work Wildlife Does
New Yorkers produce nearly $16 billion in wildlife recreation expenditures annually, $7.9 billion spent in-state. With an 8% state sales tax rate, wildlife spending generated $628 million in New York state taxes, 5.8% of $10.9 billion in New York sales tax. Wildlife recreation fuels nearly 6% of the New York State economy. As noted earlier, between wildlife watchers and sportsmen, no state spends more money, or more taxes, on wildlife recreation than New York.
While some states direct lottery sales to fund wildlife, no state currently reinvests state taxes collected from wildlife watching, fishing or hunting revenues back into the resource. Using the state lottery model as an incentive for wildlife supporters, we propose reinvesting a percentage of those wildlife-related sales taxes to a dedicated wildlife fund, treating wildlife as lottery winners. Reward wildlife for the work wildlife does in the economy, piggy-backing on promotion of the DEC's NY Open for Fishing and Hunting/Watchable Wildlife programs, and market wildlife recreation spending as the incentive to boost wildlife spending.
New York State lottery winner payouts receive 59% of lottery sales (32% goes to education). Comparably, dedicate/reinveste 60% of the total annual in-state tax from wildlife-related sales. For 2011, 60% of $628 million in wildlife-related sales would create $332 million for the dedicated wildlife fund, and distribute as the percentage each activity contributed to the 2011 wildlife recreation total: 53% from wildlife watching, 25% from fishing, and 22% from hunting. Dedicate the wildlife watching revenue to non-consumptive wildlife and New Yorkâ€™s at-risk Species of Greatest Conservation Need ($176 million), and fishing ($83 million) and hunting ($73 million) receive the share they contribute as a supplement to state license sales and federal funding, $49 million and $20 million, respectively in 2011. â€¨â€¨
There is no new tax to collect. The wildlife recreation sales percentage is simply gleaned and dedicated from the total state sales tax. The wildlife-related dedicated fund of $332 million in 2011 would represent about .25% of the $136 billion for all New York spending. Fix the .25% as the annual investment to the dedicated wildlife fund, wildlife receive 25 cents from every $100 spent in New York, and New York State collects the other 40% in wildlife generated sales tax, more than $250 million. And based on the Land for Public Trust and Association of Wildlife Agencies reports, that $332 million wildlife reinvestment would return $2.3 - $7 billion, or between $180 - $560 million in additional state sales taxes.
Restoring Ecological Balance, Fulfilling the Adirondack Park Mandate
Under the state constitution, the public lands of Adirondack Park shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. For many, this also includes establishing the ecological functions that made the area â€œwildâ€ originally. It was the presence of these large mammals, especially the carnivores, that created the functional ecological systems in the region after the last Ice Age and before Europeanâ€¨ settlement. It is through the now well documented shepherding effects of predators on prey, trophic cascades, that â€¨keep ecosystems in balance and functioning. Detailed in the DEC's NYS Strategic Plan for State Forest Management, the lost role of large carnivores is evidenced by superabundant deer who strip eastern forests of their biodiversity and sustainability. In the absence of these missing ecological drivers, the Adirondacks will continue to be, as observed by Henry David Thoureau, â€œâ€¦tamed and, as it were, emasculatedâ€¦â€. With the eradication of these large mammals, Adirondack Park is and can never be â€œforever wildâ€ as envisioned by Park founders.
With the return of elk, bison, wolves and cougars, an ecological healing can begin, and an ancient pageantry restored, that will indeed make Adirondack Park a forever wild, functioning ecosystem, a restoration that may also provide a sustainable economy for the region in perpetuity.
Graphics courtesy of the Mountain Lion Foundation's Amy Rodrigues
Thank you to artist Rod McGiver for the use of his Shadows image on our masthead.