PHOENIX – Whether it’s spotting coyotes chasing rabbits around her local golf course or staking out elk and wolves in the White Mountains, Ann Beisser loves looking for wildlife.
“I can’t seem to drive down the 101 without peeking up at the light poles to see if there’s a hawk up there,” said Beisser, who lives in Scottsdale.
The Arizona Game & Fish Department had people like Beisser in mind in designing its Watchable Wildlife program. The goal: educating residents and visitors about the state’s diverse wildlife and telling them where, when and how to spot various creatures.
Data suggest that such programs also are good for a state’s bottom line. A 2006 survey by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said about 1.3 million people participated in wildlife watching that year, spending $838 million.
“It’s just an innate desire to get back to nature and be familiar with it,” said Joe Yarchin, urban and Watchable Wildlife project manager for Game & Fish.
The program offers a Web site devoted to watchable wildlife and has videos, viewing tips, maps and user-submitted photos. Game & Fish also offers the Arizona Wildlife Viewing Guide by mail for $14.95.
It links to the Arizona Watchable Wildlife Tourism Association, which teams the Game & Fish Department with Arizona State Parks, the Arizona Office of Tourism and other organizations seeking to connect Arizonans and tourists with wildlife.
Looking for elk during the summer? Watchable Wildlife tells you that Mormon Lake and upper and lower Lake Mary south of Flagstaff are good spots.
How about bats? Watchable Wildlife says shining a light on a white sheet will attract all sorts of insects that bats hunt.
Beisser said the program has helped teach her about the value of wildlife.
“Education is the only way to preserve what we’re seeing right now,” she said. “The Watchable Wildlife program, with all of its books, makes people go, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know we had that stuff in my own backyard.’ ”
Yarchin said Watchable Wildlife provides a chance for city residents to relax and unwind.
“I think there’s an intrinsic interest in it,” he said. “Watching wildlife is something you can do at anytime, anyplace, at any age.”
Craig Izanyi, associate executive director for living collections and exhibits at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, said it’s important to educate people about Arizona’s wildlife and nature.
“Especially now as people end up in a more urbanized era, it’s very critical that we foster a sort of appreciation for the natural world,” he said. “That’s one of the goals of our museum: to engage people so they don’t forget how special it is out there in the desert.”
Bill Mannan, professor of wildlife ecology for the School of Natural Resources at the University of Arizona, said Arizona is a great place to view all kinds of animals.
“It’s a fabulous place to look at wildlife because there’s a diverse array of different vegetative zones, mountains and so forth, and that translates to many different habitats for many different animals,” Mannan said.
Beisser said a key benefit of Watchable Wildlife is helping adults transfer a love of wild animals to children.
“Every time we go out into nature, we’re imparting something fun to our kids,” she said. “This program helps instill that love for nature and its wildlife from parents to their kids.”
ON THE WEB
Watchable Wildlife Tourism Association:
TIPS FOR WATCHING WILDLIFE
• Look near water and food sources.
• Get comfortable and quiet.
• Move slowly.
• Don’t stare.
• Use binoculars.
• Watch for movement, color contrasts and tracks.
• Prime time for animals is at dawn and at dusk.
• Don’t wear perfume.
• Wear neutral and muted colors.
• Stand still upon spotting an animal.
Source: Arizona Game & Fish Department