Editorial: Preserving our paradise sound investment for state

A recently completed study indicates that the wildlife tourism industry has an annual $19 billion impact on Louisiana and the other four Gulf of Mexico states.

The ‘‘Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy’’ report, conducted by Datu Research, an economic research firm, noted that wildlife tourism attracts more than 20 million annually to our state, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and results in $5.3 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenue. Wildlife tourism, according to the report, includes hunting, recreational fishing and wildlife watching.

Louisiana’s piece of the action? Two billion a year in annual spending and supports 82,000 jobs, according to Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne

“Tourism is big business for Louisiana,” Dardenne said. “It is an industry for Louisiana. It creates jobs. It drives tax dollars to Louisiana and other southern states, coastal states.

“If you just look at the Louisiana component of this report … you’re talking about two million visitors to Louisiana who are here because of wildlife tourism, hunting, fishing and as the report describes, watching, which includes bird watching and alligator watching. And as you get into the other states, scuba diving and snorkeling, and other activities like that, you

realize the number of people who are willing to travel to enjoy wildlife tourism.”

The study, funded by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Walton Family Foundation, found that tourism in the five states supports 2.6 million jobs, nearly five times the number of jobs created by the region’s other three largest resource-based industries combined: oil and gas, shipping and commercial fishing.

Datu Research not only factored in wildlife guide businesses that serve tourists, but also the lodging and dining establishments where they eat and sleep.

It also found that tourism jobs can account for between 20 percent and 36 percent of all private jobs in

coastal parishes like Cameron and Vermilion that depend on wildlife activities. Those 53 counties and parishes have more than 25,000 tourism-related businesses and nearly 500,000 associated jobs associated with wildlife tourism, according to Datu Research.

In our corner of the state, Calcasieu Lake, aka Big Lake, and the Sabine, Rockefeller, Lacassine and Cameron wildlife refuges, are prime examples of areas that support wildlife tourism with countless recreational fishing and waterfowl hunting opportunities.

The report says there is a correlation between the health of the ecosystem and the economic health of the Gulf region. It advocates for the anticipated funds from the RESTORE Act and other fines resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill

to be used to restore the fragile Gulf Coast ecosystems.

“The conservation solutions that last are the ones that make economic sense and consider the needs of local communities,” said Scott Burns, director of the environment program at the Walton Family Foundation, which helped fund the survey. “This study connects the dots between a healthy Gulf environment, abundant wildlife and the good jobs that depend on tourism. This report adds to the growing evidence that investing in real restoration in the Gulf is the best way to create jobs and build economic prosperity across the region.”

Dardenne, whose office oversees tourism and culture in the state, adds, “Sportsman’s Paradise is more than our state’s nickname. If Louisiana is to remain the Sportsman’s Paradise, we have to ensure that funds Louisiana received as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill are properly and wisely spent preserving our paradise.”

Thankfully, this emphasis on efficient spending on restoring the Gulf should come with a healthy does of scrutiny.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.