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Bird watching is big business

Recently completed Ohio Sea Grant research shows that bird watching along Ohio’s Lake Erie coast contributes more than $26 million and 283 jobs to northern Ohio’s economy, according to Dr. Philip Xie, Director of Bowling Green State University’s College of Education and Human Development. Understanding these impacts will help local governments, park managers, and conservation groups better support bird watching and market northern Ohio to attract more bird enthusiasts, or “birders.”
There are nearly 2.4 million birders throughout the state and birding makes up a large portion of Ohio’s $39 billion tourism industry. But until Xie’s study, nobody knew exactly how much money birders spent or what kind of economic impact they had on communities.


“Having solid numbers will help policy makers understand the financial impact of bird watching in terms of how much tax revenue and jobs it creates,” Xie says. “And this information will be useful for strategic marketing—once we know where these birders are from, we will know where to spend our marketing dollars better.”
After surveying more than 1,100 birders at six of northern Ohio’s most popular birding sites (Oak Openings Preserve, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve, Old Woman Creek, Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve, and Conneaut Harbor), Xie found that most bird watchers who visit sites along the Lake Erie coast live in Ohio, but many birders also travel from neighboring states. Birders’ spending supports salaries, local products, and taxes; when local people receive that money, they turn around and spend it again. This turnover of money has a multiplying effect for the entire region, generating $1.48 for every dollar that birders spend in northern Ohio.
Xie will be sharing similar information with various groups along Lake Erie about what local officials and parks can do to draw even more bird watchers. “Communities have asked for this economic impact information so they can make wise decisions about what investments to make,” says Melinda Huntley, Ohio Sea Grant Extension’s Tourism Program Director who provided outreach support with the study. “Before public officials plan marketing efforts or enhance natural areas and public access opportunities, they want to see the potential economic value.”
In the long run, birding gives considerable returns on investments, Xie says. “It’s important for legislators to understand the magnitude of their decisions and to allocate resources and implement policies to attract
birders. After all, birding is big business and now we have a lot more information about how to attract it.”
To read Xie’s report, go to go.osu.edu/BirdingReport, and for more information, read the recent Twine Line article about this research at go.osu.edu/XieArticle.

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