NJAS Opinion: Summer, 1996
On 4 March 1996, NJAS testified at a hearing conducted by the
state Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development.
The committee sought comments on the following issues: A definition
of ecotourism; whether New Jersey should promote ecotourism; how
to use scarce resources to promote ecotourism; and how to encourage
the growth of ecotourism markets while maintaining environmental
quality in the state. Our comments to the senate committee give
rise to this column, which includes much of our testimony.
For 100 years NJAS has been bringing people and nature together
through our natural history field programs. We have always had
an extensive field trip program in the state of New Jersey, particularly
centered around birds. Our seven centers sponsor an average of
25 field trips each in New Jersey every year, so that the society
is running 175 trips to all parts of the state every year for
the purpose of observing and learning about wildlife. In recent
decades we also have sponsored an extensive travel program to
good birding areas all around the U.S., including Arizona, Colorado,
Montana, Texas, California, Maine, and other states; and a foreign
travel program which includes Trinidad, Galapagos, Venezuela,
Ecuador, Costa Rica, Australia, Kenya, England, and Canada.
Some of our best-known ecotourism events are our birding weekends
held in Stokes State Forest, in the Highlands, in Cumberland and
Salem counties, and especially our spring and fall Cape May Weekends,
and the World Series of Birding held in Cape May the second week
of May. The weekends in Cape May attract 500 people or more to
our package programs, and there are many more part-time participants
in our weekend activities. We are an advocate of conservation
and ecotourism as well as a practitioner of ecotourism, and a
host of ecotourism at our centers. Our former Cape May Bird Observatory
Director, Dr. Paul Kerlinger, conducted many of the studies that
produced the hard statistics on avitourism in New Jersey and throughout
We describe ecotourism as travel to natural areas for wildlife-related
purposes, such as birding, hiking, fishing, rock-climbing, botanizing,
nature photography, whale watching, etc. We think the promotion
of ecotourism (and in particular, our brand of avitourism) is
a wise use of natural resources, because it calls attention to
the outstanding natural features of our state; provides an excellent
additional motive for conservation of our natural resources; and
is a positive economic asset not only for tourist businesses,
but also for the ancillary businesses that serve both the ecotourism
promoters and the tourists themselves. A multiplier effect occurs
in the local economy surrounding a wildlife refuge (sometimes
as high as 3:1), and on average, the multiplier is probably 2:1
in economies around ecotourist destinations. This means that for
every dollar spent by the ecotourist, two dollars are spent by
the locals in the local economy.
The promotion of ecotourism is cost effective in most places,
so why not here? The Province of New Brunswick, Canada, has done
a good job of promoting birds and bird habitats to their ecotourists.
I am one, and I've used their materials. They are good. Perhaps
we could initiate an exchange with them. For example, they have
a major shorebird staging area at Mary Point in the Bay of Fundy
in July-sandpipers number in six figures, which folks go to see.
We have a similar phenomenon here on the Delaware Bayshore of
New Jersey for two or three weeks in May, when a significant portion
of the world's turnstones, knots, and sanderlings feed on the
horseshoe crab eggs. It is a world-class tourist phenomenon. We
need some promotion of avitourism itself, not as a footnote to
tourism in general, but as a separate and growing economy.
The state Division of Tourism and Travel could promote visitation
in conjunction with the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife; not
only for the shorebirds on Delaware Bay, but other phenomena as
well. The Division has some tourist infrastructure now on the
bayshore-interpretive signage, platforms for observation, and
a parking lot at Reeds Beach. With the state's Watchable Wildlife
Program, the Stopover Project, the many state parks and forests,
we have the existing sites and the programs to promote ecotourism
at the state level. Signage, parking areas, and "watchable
wildlife" designations would serve the tourist trade in the
Pinelands, in the Highlands (where it can be combined with history-the
state of Virginia has done well in this area), and in combination
with the Coastal Heritage Trail on both coasts.
There are a wealth of avitourism targets (some well-known, others
not) around the state: The mouths of Oldman's and Raccoon Creeks
along Route 130 in Gloucester, where anywhere from twenty to fifty
thousand pintails stage before spring migration each February
(a globally significant site); the Delaware Bayshore in Cumberland
and Salem Counties, where a quarter million snow geese winter;
the biggest raptor migration in the U.S., with a quarter million
raptors passing through Cape May every fall; the seawatch in Avalon,
where a million migrant waterbirds pass each fall; the Highlands,
where 150 species of birds, including 27 warbler species, are
resident, a good June destination; and the million shorebirds
of 3 species on the Delaware Bay in May.
Here are some thoughts on balancing tourism needs with preserving
the environment. Our view is that the greatest threat to natural
areas is not from tourism, but from incompatible development which
permanently alters the landscape. While there is some anecdotal
information about harassment of animals on safaris and whale watches,
by and large the plus factors outweigh the minus on the issue
of tourism impacts. Along with avitourism, whale watching is one
of the fastest growing versions of ecotourism, and New Jersey
is getting more popular as a destination, in all four seasons,
for this activity. Several whale watches run in Cape May and are
always full. Captain Larsen out of Barnegat ran them successfully
on Mondays in summer; Bogan out of Brielle runs watches on weekends
even in winter, because whales are wintering here. Ecotourists,
when they grow to know and love the resource, become a force for
conservation, for example, the petition drive to make Stellwagen
Banks off Cape Cod a marine sanctuary for whales; the success
of the tax checkoff and license plate programs; and the success
of Green Acres bond issues in New Jersey. Folks want conservation,
and ecotourism increases the advocates for the conservation of
Actually the promotion of ecotourism is not so much a threat to
the environment as it is an opportunity. It can drive resource-compatible
economies in key regions of the state like the Highlands, where
you have the birthplace of the North American industrial revolution
coupled with some of the highest biodiversity in the state and
fine recreation areas-all sitting within the water supply for
half of the state's residents. Bed and breakfasts and hotels to
scale, serving a tourist economy, can prevent the area from being
lost to suburban sprawl, which it assuredly will be without regional
planning and growth management. Sprawl doesn't fit in the Highlands.
A resource-based economy does. The same can be said for the Delaware
Bay region. The State Plan can be a help in these regions if actively
supported by government and implemented. If permits and approvals
in the various regulatory programs follow the plan's guidelines,
the environment can be safeguarded, with help from regional planning
and cooperation between towns.
Here are some facts about avitourism in New Jersey, generated
by our research department under Dr. Paul Kerlinger. The average
birder spends $350 a year on travel and equipment. A committed
birder spends much more, about $2000/year, half of that on travel.
In Cape May, 100,000 birders visit the peninsula each year, about
half from out of state, and contribute about $10 million to the
local economy. Forsythe Refuge in Atlantic County gets 250,000
visitors a year; 175,000 of them go around the dikes; about 140,000
of those are birders. In Cape May during 1988, birders stayed
in 63 hotels and 30 bed and breakfasts; they used 116 restaurants;
their average stay was 4 days and 3 nights. They return on average
two seasons a year. Furthermore, the avitourist money is spent
in the coastal off-season, i.e., after Labor Day and before Memorial
Day. Land conservation is key to this economy.
Other numbers are interesting too. Our Audubon society weekend
in spring at Cape May puts $35,000 into the hotel where we stay.
In fall, our annual meeting hotel tab is $55,000. For the World
Series of Birding, it is $24,000. The World Series of Birding
is held in New Jersey because it is a rich bird state. About 350
species occur here every year in our five physiographic regions.
The World Series raises about a half million dollars for conservation,
and through pledges involves about 70,000 people from conservation
organizations in various states. Cape May is the magnet that draws
the World Series participants, and birders from all over the world.
Most bird clubs in the Northeast and the Middle Atlantic States
schedule at least one birding trip to Cape May each year, many
in both spring and fall.
Our avitourism in New Jersey includes all parts of the state.
One hears a lot about Cape May, and deservedly so. But avitourist
trips also go to Liberty State Park in Jersey City to look for
snowy owls and other owl species in the winter. The Hackensack
Meadowlands is a frequent locus for bird trips; there is an eco
boat tour on the Hackensack River run by HEART, a local organization
promoting conservation there. These urbanized areas are important
stops used by World Series of Birding teams. Salem and Gloucester
Counties are popular destinations for birders, especially in winter
and spring, looking for raptors, waterfowl, and shorebirds. Many
of our parks and forests in all corners of the state, from Parvin
to High Point, from Lebanon to Sandy Hook, are avitourist destinations
in the off months, even the cold months. A good avitourist belongs
on the Manasquan jetty in January at 25 degrees looking for razorbills!
There is no off-season! Let's promote ecotourism to our natural
treasures by all means, so they don't get plowed under and disappear.
Director of Conservation.