By Michelle Werts

The gopher tortoise. The ocelot. The red-cockaded woodpecker. The black bear.

The endangered ocelot, which we’ve been protecting through habitat restoration work in Texas
The endangered ocelot, which we’ve been protecting through habitat restoration work in Texas. Credit: Dan Bodenstein

Within the last two years, American Forests Global ReLeaf projects in Florida, Texas, Alabama and Louisiana have restored forest habitat in these Gulf Coast states for each of the above listed species — alongside many more — and while we’re incredibly proud of these efforts, we’re also proud of the fact that conservation isn’t just about forests, wildlife and ecosystems. Conservation and restoration activities help the economy — in a staggering way.

In the Gulf Coast states, wildlife tourism (wildlife watching, recreational fishing and hunting) generates more than $19 billion in annual spending, according to a new report, “Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy,” released earlier this week by the Environmental Defense Fund. This translates to 2.6 million jobs, 1,100 guide and outfitter organizations and 11,000 lodging and dining facilities to support the 20 million people who participate in wildlife tourism in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas each year. And, according to local business owners, the health of environment is tantamount to economic viability.

“My business depends 110 percent on the health of the environment … on the resources themselves — the fact that I’m allowed to go on Dog Island for my birding and shelling trips,” says Capt. Chester Reese, owner/operator of Natural World Charters in Carrabelle, Fla., in the report. “It’s dependent on the fish biting; it’s dependent on the dolphin jumping out of the water. You know, if you just go out there and nothing happens, you know jeez, it’s like ‘great trip, but it was only a boat ride.’”

We’re doing our part to help improve the environment, wildlife habitat and more in communities across the country so that trips like Capt. Reese’s can continue to bring people closer to nature. Will you join us?