"What's going on?" I'm a little confused, are you?

People vote every day with their pocketbooks for eco-activities

by Marguerite Hampton


n a recent Fact Sheet I picked up at the San Diego Ecotourism Summit Conference, I read the following:

"More than 76 million Americans watched, photographed, and fed birds and other wildlife, spending $18.1 billion. This generated nearly $40 billion in total economic activity across the country, supporting 766,000 jobs and resulting in $3 billion in state and federal tax revenues."

The report noted that 109 million Americans participated in wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing. By comparison, 105 million attended major league football, basketball, hockey, and baseball games in 1991. Nationally, Florida led the way with 2.9 million anglers 16 and older, followed closely by California with 2.7 million. Texas had 2.6 million, Michigan 1.8 million and New York 1.7 million.

The survey revealed that 5.7 million Californians 16 and older enjoyed observing, photographing, or feeding wildlife around their homes while 2.4 million took trips away from home to enjoy these activities.

A National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, comparing passive to active recreation between 1982-83 and 1994-95 showed people: walking +42.98 percent, backpacking +72.7 percent, hiking 93.5 percent, and bird watching 155.2 percent. Active recreation: water skiing +12.6 percent, fishing -3.8 percent, sailing -9.4 percent, and hunting -12.3 percent.

This range of popular activities, collectively becoming known as ecotourism, is gaining in popularity and increasing about 35 percent each year. In 1991, 4 million Texas residents spent over $877 million observing, feeding, or photographing wildlife and spent $423 million traveling to get there. In Cape May, considered to be the number one birding spot in North America, in 1996, 100,000 birders arrived spending $31 million. The County Ecotourism Fact Sheet goes on to say that: "San Diego can be a birding mecca like Cape May. We have more bird species, 485 plus, than any other county in the United States."

Then why is the City pouring millions of dollars into stadiums as opposed to helping to develop wildlife habitats and bird sanctuaries that would bring in more revenues than football or baseball?

Thanks to the foresight of County Supervisor Pam Slater, who called for the Ecotourism Summit Conference, San Diego County is now getting ready to shore up wildlife-related recreation attractions in the County while at the same time striving to make ecotourism more sustainable here by ensuring that the habitats we have will be enhanced and not destroyed.

Other elected officials should find out a little bit more about what people here in San Diego really want. And maybe our schools should spend just a little more time developing courses that are aimed at wildlife and birding. Maybe one problem with our youth is that we spend millions of dollars and thousand of hours teaching them to be competitive through athletic games, yet we spend little time and money helping them to develop an appreciation of nature and their life support system. As a result, they seem to have become so alienated from nature, and consequently from themselves, that they no longer know who they are and treat nature as if it were a foreign object. Could this possibly be why we have so many young people on drugs, so many street gangs, so many teenage pregnancies?

Learning about and connecting with nature seems to help people understand what life is all about and imbue an appreciation for it. Organized sports teaches how to be competitive and how to win while making the other side a loser. This may work fine in the business world, but it doesn't teach much about how to "live."

In developing sustainable communities, so necessary for the survival of the human race, I have to ask if competitive games such as football, basketball, hockey, baseball and soccer at the level to which they have been elevated really play a net-positive role in our society.

If you look at the statistics here, many more are voting for nature recreation than are voting for pro-sports as verified by the activity level. Shouldn't our City government take a cue from this? What's going on? Am I the only one confused here?

Marguerite Hampton is President of CRANES (Citizens' Respons-able Action Network for Eco-nomic Sustainability) A Chapter of the Ecological Life Systems Institute 2604 B El Camino Real, #258, Carlsbad, CA 92008 Ph: 760-729-1482 Fax: 760-729-1844 Email: aguilarmcts.com.

Copies of the report may be obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Publications Unit at 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 130, Arlington, VA 22203; telephone: 703-358-1711.