Watchable Wildlife


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Watchable Wildlife Experience

The intent of Watchable Wildlife viewing is to facilitate positive, memorable experiences that keep disturbances to a minimum. A positive experience refers both to the watcher and the animal being watched. The presence of the watcher should be a neutral influence upon the animal. Awareness of human presence is acceptable, and avoiding changing natural behavior the aim.

A memorable experience most often comes from close-up viewing. “Close” does not have to be physically close to a wild animal. Touching an hours old wolf track can be close, too. Discovering an owl feather in a park natural area and leaving it for the next person can be intimate and memorable.

Our society increasingly lives in urban environments. This places an added importance on facilitating wildlife viewing experiences that put people in touch with wildlife in real nature. The wildlife watcher slows down and quietly discovers a wild animal without altering the animal’s behavior. As a result of this rewarding experience, the watcher gains a greater appreciation of the natural world.

Wildlife watchers depart with a memorable, enjoyable, and educational experience. The wildlife continues to feed, rest, nest, and otherwise go about daily living without stress or interference with its ability to survive. All wildlife viewing facilities minimize and concentrate impacts. The viewers come and go without altering the habitat. The local community and landowners see viewers as respectful and desirable visitors. The goal is to lead wildlife watchers to want to learn more, and to take informed action on behalf of wildlife and habitats.

The Origins of Watchable Wildlife

The term Watchable Wildlife was coined by Bob Mace, Deputy Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), in 1979 after the Oregon Legislature gave ODFW management authority for ‘non-game’ wildlife. The phrase permanently changed the way many people think of small animals from robins and raccoons to salamanders, frogs, and butterflies. Until that time, the most common term available to describe wildlife not sought after by hunters was “non-game.” Mace, a 1942 graduate of the then Department of Fish and Wildlife Management at Oregon State University, felt there should be a more positive term for these species whose appeal to nature lovers and photographers seemed to call for greater respect.

Early Years in Oregon

While the Oregon Legislature gave authority to ODFW to manage watchable wildlife, that authority did not come with increased revenue. Consequently, each year from 1979-1981, ODFW designed, marketed and sold a button and poster featuring a species of watchable wildlife. The first design featured a raccoon (shown on right). Proceeds were used to fund the Watchable Wildlife program, but sales were inconsistent.

In 1981, the Oregon legislature passed the ‘non-game’ tax check-off program. Oregon was second in the nation, behind Colorado, to adopt this kind of revenue generating program. The legislature also added some general fund money to the wildlife management budget for ‘non-game’ management activities. Neither funding source allowed use of the money for creating or enhancing viewing, interpretive or other appreciative uses. With the nongame tax check-off promising a reasonable return and some general fund money to support traditional nongame wildlife management activities, the fledgling button and poster campaign was discontinued.

Early on, it became clear that ‘Watchable Wildlife’ was not simply about non-game species management, it was really about non-consumptive use of all wildlife. With this recognition and with the transfer of the Watchable Wildlife program from ODFW’s wildlife division to it’s Information and Education Division (headed by Cliff Hamilton), the Watchable Wildlife Program in Oregon began to develop.

The First Wildlife Viewing Guide in Oregon

The first Oregon Watchable Wildlife viewing guide was created by Cliff Hamilton and then University of Oregon graduate student Kathy Walsh.  It included 30 sites.  The first printing of 800 copies flew quickly off the shelf.  Although never reprinted, the guide demonstrated the interest among Oregon citizens for non-consumptive wildlife activities.  This guide was the precursor to an expanded series of viewing guides for many states (see below).  Additionally, the legacy of this first Oregon guide includes the origin of the binocular symbol (see right) that Kathy created to identify wildlife viewing sites.  That symbol has been adopted nationally and is one of the most recognizable icons of Watchable Wildlife.

Watchable Wildlife Nationally

The name first came to national prominence in 1981, when Bob Mace distributed 100 lapel pins that advocated the new name to leading state and federal wildlife administrators in attendance at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Washington DC.

This action brought the concept of Watchable Wildlife to the national stage. In 1986, a presidential commission on the outdoors listed nature recreation as a key activity among Americans. This led to increased national awareness and provided support for federal agencies to develop Watchable Wildlife programs.

In 1988, Defenders of Wildlife initiated a project in Oregon to expand on the a statewide viewing network and wildlife viewing guide orginally produced by ODFW. In cooperation with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Oregon Tourism Division over 100 sites were identified and included in the new version of Oregon wildlife viewing guide. As with the first book, the Oregon wildlife guide was an immediate success, and many additional states followed with guides of their own. As of 2005, guides had been completed for 39 states. The culmination of independent efforts by various state and federal agencies during the 1980’s to develop programs in Watchable Wildlife came in 1990 when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed that formed a framework for cooperation among agencies to develop information and activities related to Watchable Wildlife. As in Oregon, nationally this term quickly came to refer to any species huntable, fishable, or not, that people sought to enjoy in a non-consumptive manner.

Back in Oregon

After a lull in activities surrounding Watchable Wildlife during the late 1980s and 1990s in Oregon, things have picked up with the internet providing a natural vehicle for sharing information on Watchable Wildlife in Oregon.  ODFW maintains resources dedicated to wildlife viewing on their web site including a list of sites to visit by region in Oregon. ODFW has also expanded to include a presence on facebook. Funding Watchable Wildlife programs in Oregon and around the country continues to be a challenge as most agencies continue to look for acceptable mechanisms to generate revenue from the growing number of people that pursue non-consumptive uses for wildlife.