“Birds mean business.” A slogan like that sounds as though it comes from Madison Avenue, fresh from a script for Mad Men, one of my favourite television shows centred in the advertising world in the United States.
The slogan was not penned, in fact, by a slick adman on the street of shame, but is being promoted by a group of New Yorkers whose natural habitat is situated as far away from the heart of the American advertising industry as you can get. “Birds mean business” highlights a campaign to extol the value of birdwatching tourism not just to New York City, with the “twitcher” paradise of Central Park at its heart, but to New York state as a whole.
The New York chapter of the National Audubon Society birdwatching organisation is launching a campaign to demonstrate to political and business leaders that, when it comes to birds and birdwatchers, there really is gold in them there hills.
Audubon New York points out birdwatching is the fastest growing outdoor recreation activity in New York with an estimated 3.8 million birdwatchers in the state who generate $1.6 billion in ecotourism revenue annually.
And it doesn’t end there. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service survey from which the New York figures are derived, across the entire US there are 47 million birders. And they are having a huge economic impact. The survey reveals that in 2011 trip and equipment-related expenditures associated with birding generated nearly $107 billion in total industry output, 666,000 jobs, and $13 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue.
This impact was distributed across local, state, and national economies but, for me, there was one vital statistic missing. How many of these 47 million birders travelled overseas, and what did they spend in foreign countries?
One thing is certain is that Australia, and Tasmania, gained a slice of this birding pie
In the 15 years I have lived in Tasmania I have seen a growing band of American twitchers visiting here, along with those from Britain and Europe, although birding in Asia still has to take off on the same scale.
Many of them come under the tutelage of Tasmania’s biggest and most successful proponent of birding tourism, Tonia Cochran, who runs Inala Tours from her property of the same name on Bruny Island. American and British birders are in fact her biggest customers, making up 90 per cent of the business.
The Inala property boasts the very birds the tourists visiting Tasmania want to see – the 12 endemic species found nowhere else on earth, including one of the rarest of all birds, the forty-spotted pardalote.
There is something ironic in the fact, with all this tourism potential from America and other countries there to be tapped, Dr Cochran sees her business under threat from Forestry Tasmania plans to log a coupe a next to her property. She is in the process of fighting the application to log Coupe SB16B, pointing out that not only does logging the coupe threaten nesting sites of the swift parrot and grey goshawk, but the integrity of the surrounding landscape on which her business depends.
Her nature tourism enterprise has been built up over 21 years and not only employs seven Bruny Islanders, but contributes significantly to the local economy.
Forestry Tasmania has said it is working with locals to address concerns over logging the coupe, while also allowing it to meet its wood supply obligations. The Forest Practices Code will be used to assess whether special provisions are needed to protect environmental values.
I don’t want to enter the more general forestry debate – I have no problem with the business of harvesting native trees – but the New York experience puts a different perspective on how Tasmania’s natural assets can be exploited. A Tasmanian government that proclaims the state is open for business might think about including birds in its business plan.