WYOMING — Wyoming Wildlife Advocates’ latest billboard in Cody features a photo of a grizzly with the words, “Live wildlife brings JOBS to Wyoming. Our economy needs GRIZZLIES now more than ever!” The billboard will be in place throughout the summer season and into the fall.
With COVID-19 as a predominant factor in every American’s life, the economy is a topic on most people’s minds these days. Wyoming has typically been in a cycle of boom and bust as reliance on coal, oil, and gas has been the mainstay of the economy. However, in the past 50 years, an increase in tourism has brought the value of this sector up to the second largest income producer in the state.
As Wyoming grapples with budget cuts to important community services, they have a golden goose (or more rightly stated – a golden grizzly) staring them directly in the face, says Wyoming Wilderness Advocates. One of the busiest areas of the state has been Grand Teton National Park where the matriarch of the Tetons herself, 399, has emerged with four cubs to the delight of wildlife-watchers from all over the country. People are flocking to see the bruin family and spending their money in hotels, restaurants, and gas stations statewide. With people still not feeling fully comfortable boarding an aircraft, many are driving to Yellowstone and the Tetons and spending money along the way.
“When the state was set to begin hunting grizzlies immediately after delisting from the Endangered Species Act, they would have allowed 22 bears to be killed,” Wyoming Wildlife Advocates said in a press release. “Those 22 bears could be worth millions, if not billions, over the next several years. Ecotourism has become the mainstay of many communities such as the Spirit Bear Lodge in British Columbia, Brooks Falls in Alaska, and wherever grizzly bears are found. Large carnivores have become so rare that many will travel just to see them.”
More than 12,000 jobs have been created as a result of increased wildlife tourism, specifically visitors coming to the state just to see large carnivores.
“We can either ignore the value that wolves and bears bring to our economy, or we can embrace the potential they have to create even more prosperity across Wyoming,” says Kristin Combs, executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “Many communities from Rock Springs to Buffalo could see an increase in jobs and economic input just from having these animals present on the landscape.”