An article was published recently about Idaho Fish and Game looking for a way to generate revenue by imposing fees on wildlife viewing. A discussion started on twitter which I carried over to IBLE (Idaho Birders Linked Electronically). The comments have been pretty interesting and have made me think deeper about the issue.
Most comments are in support of some sort of fee structure with the hope that the new revenue goes toward establishing, preserving, enhancing or maintaining public wildlife viewing areas. Admittedly, my initial gut reaction to almost any type of government program or taxation is to oppose it.
We already pay for Idaho State Park access and National Parks have entrance fees as well. Most, if not all, wildlife refuges and management areas in Idaho do not require a fee or license unless you are hunting or boating. I suppose I'd be okay paying for a year pass to these locations, using a system something like the Duck Stamp. Wouldn't it be a great if there was a single type of wildlife viewing pass that would cover entry into all of these areas?!
I would never want to see a fee imposed on birdwatching/wildlife viewing where a game warden could fine people for watching birds on private land or ticket me for looking at birds along the side of the highway. Its just not reasonable! Not to mention, hard to enforce.
The Nature Conservancy has preserves that require a fee to enter. Botanical gardens and arboreta generally charge for entrance. While many depend on some government funding, to my knowledge, they largely rely on private donors for their maintenance. The more private funding the better, I say. I have a tough time trusting that government agencies will administer my hard earned money to its best use (no offense to all you agency employed birders out there). I would hate for new wildlife viewing revenue to be whisked away to unrelated projects.
Privately owned preserves probably manage the land better because they have an economic incentive to do so. We need more of them! I'd be willing to turn public lands over to private organizations to manage; not to own, just to manage. I'm sure there are some private individuals out there that are smart and entrepreneurial enough to make a buck while keeping open some of Idaho's State Parks that are now closed due to budget cuts. We may have to pay more to get in, but it would be worth it!
Even though I am an "evil" Ayn Rand-capitalist, land-developer and home-builder, I strongly support the preservation of public and private land. I also strongly support public access and enjoyment of the outdoors and I'm willing to pay an annual fee for it. No matter how we look at it, its gonna cost money and we wildlife watchers will have to pay more. It all comes down to what is the best and most efficient way to collect and use the money.