Watching the Wild Side: WMAs

Watching wildlife is big business, as is hunting and fishing. One survey has shown nearly 80% of Idahoans spend time each year enjoying wildlife through activities such as observation and photography. Though there is no license required to admire a herd of pronghorn or take pictures of wildflowers, wildlife watchers contribute greatly to Idaho’s economy in the form of gas, lodging, eating out, and buying equipment.

Watching wildlife is sometimes misunderstood as being an activity for people who don’t hunt and fish. This could not be further from the truth. Many sportsmen and women enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their own backyards, during a hike, and while hunting and fishing.

Many towns, like Hagerman, located near one of Fish and Game’s 32 wildlife management areas are small rural communities looking to diversify their economies. The WMAs provide a unique resource to build upon, as they offer relatively easy and accessible locations to view Idaho’s wildlife. While wildlife needs come first, people can hunt, fish, hike, watch wildlife and more on most of the WMAs.

In the case of Hagerman’s annual birding festival, the Hagerman WMA is only a few minutes drive from the town. The event will have speakers, birding field trips, workshops, family activities, and a wine and cheese social and banquet.

Two other spectacular opportunities on WMAs for watching wildlife include the Fort Boise and Market Lake wildlife management areas.

Fort Boise WMA is at the confluence of the Snake, Boise, and Owyhee Rivers in southwest Idaho. It is Idaho’s most dependable location for tens of thousands of snow and great white-fronted geese. It is a spectacular sight to witness wave after wave of white geese, silhouetted against a blue sky, come in for a landing on a crowded pond. The best time to witness this migration phenomena is mid-March through mid- April.

Home to the largest colony of white-faced ibis and Franklin’s gulls in the west, and perhaps the world, Market Lake WMA is an incredible place to watch this raucous colony of over 50,000 birds in the spring and summer (May-July). A visit anytime of a day during these months will reward the visitor with a spectacle of constant sound and movement, but a trip to the WMA around sunrise and sunset will provide an amazing view of the daily commute, as thousands of these waterbirds set out as a group to find food for their young, or return from a long day to take a rest for the night.

Not only does wildlife watching contribute significantly to people’s enjoyment of the outdoors, but wildlife viewing has a substantial impact on Idaho’s economy. By visiting your local WMA, you are creating a boost to the state’s economy. This is especially noticed in rural areas where the economic benefit from trip-related expenses can be felt. So get your camera, get outdoors,  and explore a wildlife management area close to you.