Are Birders Freeloaders?
by Nate Swick
Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds is a friend of mine. He's a great person, he more or less invented the bird blog as we know it, and he's as enthusiastic about our community and the ABA as anyone I've met, but he also likes to stir up a little trouble from time to time. Of course, by trouble I mean thoughtful, if provocative, critiques of birder culture.
Take, for instance, his latest on why we birders don't get enough credit for our conservation actions, and what we should do about it. The title guaranteed to get people talking? Birders are Freeloaders.
If you ever wonder why so many American birders leaven their love of nature with a little self-loathing, look no further than the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts every five years or so. Many of our most puzzling statistics arise from this otherwise innocuous report. In fact, this is the source for the statistic — that approximately 71 million Americans are “bird watchers” — that has been a veritable iceberg to the Titanic of any birding-industry company that took the number at face value.
After enough time to consider that stat, I believe many of us have calculated personal estimates of the number of what can more accurately be called birders, at least for commercial purposes; I won’t share my figure, but will admit that it has far fewer zeroes. But that’s old news. The meme perpetuated by the newest National Survey is far more pernicious…
Wildlife watchers watch for free.
His point, that we need to be more vocal advocates for the great work we do as a community that places a huge value on conservation, is one that has serious legs. His ideas on how we make our advocacy known are bound to raise some hackles, but it's a discussion we should be having because ultimately we all benefit, along with the birds we watch, when birders get their due.
Granted, this is a very US-centric issue, what with the involvement of the USFWS. But I'd be interested to hear from some Canadian birders about how this issue plays among our friends to the north as well. The model is somewhat different there, but is there a similar bias towards hunting and fishing interests?
In addition to Mike's terrific post, you may be interested in the discussion this post instigated on on the ABA's Facebook group. Which is a reminder that if you're a Facebooker (and I understand not everybody is) you can "like" the ABA's page and also join the group where some interesting discussions have sprung up of late.
We're a big tent, and we welcome anyone with an interest in birds to join. Freeloader or not.