Hunting, fishing and wildlife watching is an annual tradition for many families. For them, this is part of the Washington lifestyle. More than 200,000 hunters, every year, buy equipment, ammunition, clothes and other gear to get ready for the hunting season. Over $160 million is spent annually on hunting equipment. Hunters also spend $163 million more on trip related expenditures. Many of these avid hunters live in urban areas and are eager to find wildlife recreation opportunities close to home.
Snohomish County is unique - agriculture and rural activities are still viable, open space and wetlands still exist, millions of waterfowl migrate through this area annually, as part of the Pacific Flyway, and thousands of avid hunters and wildlife enthusiasts live within an hour drive.
Land leases and ownership expenditures by these wildlife recreation participants are rising as demand for land to pursue these activities is rapidly growing. It is becoming clear that counties with higher wildlife recreation income streams have higher land values. Since most of the hunting activities occur during the Fall and Winter months there is generally no impact on farming activities. With a little bit of effort many Snohomish County farmers could find significant additions to their farm income by providing wildlife recreation activities during the Fall and Winter months.
In my own experience, I own a number of acres in the Snohomish Valley, much of it has been converted to wetlands (with an eye towards wildlife recreation) but much of it is still actively farmed. I have provided approximately 300 acres of this property to a Snohomish County Farm family. The property is farmed annually growing corn, barley and wheat. In return for the land use all I ask is that the ground is well cared for and improved and that a few rows of corn and barley be left standing for waterfowl and other wildlife - these cereal grains are an important source of carbohydrates for waterfowl on their Southern and Northern migrations. This relationship is a win/win, the farmer has very inexpensive access to the ground, the agricultural aspects of the ground have been improved considerably and the waterfowl and wildlife activities are world class. Since we started planting cereal grains as a food source for waterfowl we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of wintering ducks, geese and swans in our area. Mallards, Pintail, Widgeon and Teal are abundant, Trumpeter Swans and many species of Canada Geese are abundant as well. With the increase in bird numbers more opportunities exist for hunters and bird watchers. Conservation groups benefit, as well, as we are providing habitat that is important to many species of waterfowl, Raptors (Eagles and Hawks), deer, elk and songbirds – everyone is very happy!
Although hunting is not for everyone, it is clear that wildlife recreation is a
large and expanding industry. Farmers have an opportunity to reap benefits from
this growing industry by building revenue streams from recreational activities.
The potential income from wildlife recreation services and strong demand for
land to pursue these activities are transforming many rural land markets - Snohomish
County is no exception.
- Scott Gunning