Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow (WTFT), The WYldlife Fund, and the University of Wyoming (UW) are excited to announce the first annual Summer Ambassadors Program. This program came to life through a successful meeting between Taylor Phillips, founder of WTFT; Chris McBarnes, president of The WYldlife Fund; and Dr. Jacob Hochard, professor of Conservation Economics at UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. During the meeting, Dr. Hochard recognized the momentous importance of WTFT’s mission, stating that wildlife conservation in the United States is “usually viewed from a top-down perspective through the collection of hunting tags and licenses, taxing hunters, etc. Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow, on the other hand, is a bottom-up approach, requiring tremendous groundwork, logistic work, coordination work, and relationship-building.”
Clockwise, beginning from top left: Chris McBarnes, president of The WYldlife Fund; Dr. Jacob Hochard, professor of Conservation Economics at UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; Taylor Phillips, founder of WTFT.
The goal of this new ambassador program is to have university students take on the this groundwork. Four students, spread across the state of Wyoming, will work remotely from their home communities to build relationships between WTFT and local small businesses in the outdoor recreation, tourism, and hospitality industries. Together, these small business and WTFT partnerships will fund projects across the state that seek to conserve Wyoming’s wildlife. Summer ambassadors will also be enrolled as research assistants with Dr. Hochard and meet weekly to discuss progressive approaches to bottom-up conservation finance in Wyoming.
When asked about her interest in this program, one prospective ambassador, Emma Vandenburg, said, “This position excites me because it’s cool to be at the ground level and see if this method of conservation funding grows to other states.” There is tremendous potential for WTFT’s mission to spread to other states, especially with WTFT already laying the foundation. The future of wildlife conservation is bright!
The ten-week program will begin in early June, and ambassadors are expected to commit to 10 hours of work a week. They have the freedom and independence to make their own schedules, and they will be offered a stipend of $2,500. The hands-on research assistance experience ambassadors will gain will give them the tools needed to explore careers in conservation economics, tourism, and hospitality, and there is potential for future growth with WTFT and The WYldlife Fund.
The creation of this new program is further pushing WTFT into the spotlight. Founded only one year ago, in March 2021, WTFT has already donated over $100,000 to wildlife conservation projects, and has the full support of Wyoming’s Governor Gordon. We are seeing tremendous growth, and we are thrilled about the opportunity to get the next generation of conservationists involved through this ambassador program.
8.1 MILLION people can’t be wrong! Yes, that’s right…MILLION, and what are they not wrong about? How wonderful it is to visit Wyoming. To put it into perspective, sixteen times our actual population traveled to make a memory here last year. Wildlife viewing was at the top of their list of activities.
In 2022, it seems that we are united in the need to reconnect to nature by making pilgrimages to incredible vistas, seeing magnificent wildlife, and pursuing other recreational opportunities, and in that respect Wyoming has it all. This is why those more than eight million visitors wend their way from nearby states or from across the globe to spend 4 BILLION DOLLARS*, which helps to employ 30.4K workers* and generates $243 million in tax receipts.*
Wildlife viewing in Grand Teton National Park. Photo courtesy of Taylor Glenn.
While that is pretty impressive, there is a conundrum: wildlife-watching opportunities are at the very top of the list of what visitors want, and even though all those taxes make their way to and through towns and counties to our capitol in Cheyenne, none of it goes directly to wildlife or habitat. That is because the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), which is responsible for wildlife, is not funded through state general funds, meaning their revenue comes only from hunting licenses, federal excise taxes, and some grants.
But, remember those 8.1 million people, most of whom come to look for wildlife?
Well, Taylor Phillips, whose primary business is providing wildlife-viewing guided excursions in Wyoming through his business EcoTour Adventures, came up with a way for the revenue generated by Wyoming visitors to give back. That is how Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow was born.
Just as springtime brings new life to the environment, it has become the season of milestones in the progress of Taylor’s initiative. March of 2020 saw the department’s supporting organization, The Wyldlife Fund, led by Chris McBarnes, launched into the stormy seas of COVID. The following spring of 2021, Chris McBarnes, Chris Colligan of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and Taylor ventured out on the ice of Jackson Lake for a social, if somewhat soggy fishing trip, for beers and ideas and strategizing to develop Taylor’s dream to capture conservation funding from the existing tourism economy.
This spring more than 60 businesses—businesses that not only depend on wildlife-seeking visitors, but also benefit economically from their presence— have already enrolled to give back. Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow, as a flagship initiative of The Wyldlife Fund, has given over $100,000 to date, to important projects such as wildlife crossings, wildlife-friendly fencing, elk collaring research, and improving aquatic and terrestrial habitat.
These encouraging results, together with the dedication, enthusiasm, and tenacity of Taylor, as well as the hard work and support of Wyldlife Fund President Chris McBarnes, led WGFD Director Brian Nesvik to arrange a meeting with Governor Gordon and his Policy Director, Renny McKay at the Capitol in Cheyenne on March 21st. Taylor, Chris, and Board Secretary Penny Maldonado were honored to share the progress being made by The Wyldlife Fund and Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow. Wyoming has always been a leader and as Renny explained, while hunting remains incredibly popular in Wyoming, even as some other states are experiencing declining participation, the prospect of opening up an alternative funding stream from tourism revenue in addition to traditional sources would enhance conservation through on the ground projects.
Left to right: Brian Nesvik, Director of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department; Governor Gordon; Taylor Phillips, Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow founder; Chris McBarnes, President of The WYldlife Fund; & Penny Maldonado, member of the Board of Directors for The WYldlife Fund.
The meeting was a fantastic opportunity to embrace the mutual love of wildlife, wildlands, and, of course, Wyoming, and the desire to find ways for more people to be able to contribute to critical conservation needs. The group left with confidence going forward because of Director Nesvik’s resounding endorsement of Taylor and Chris’s efforts, and with the warm and attentive reception by Governor Gordon and Renny. The Wyldlife Fund and Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow are grateful for the time spent at the Capitol and look forward to more exciting milestones as the opportunity to invest in conservation funding expands.
*2021 year in review WOT
Written by Penny Maldonado, Board Member of The WYldlife Fund