Mississippi State University's Natural Resources Enterprise Program can help the state's landowners diversify their income by capitalizing on the popularity of wildlife watching and nature photography.
"Mississippi landowners with scenic views, butterfly gardens, wildlife viewing areas, or important or rare bird species can market these wildlife-viewing opportunities in order to charge a fee for access to their land," said Daryl Jones, associate Extension professor in wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture at MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center.
Jones said residents and visitors spend about $175 million annually on equipment, travel and related expenses to watch and photograph wildlife in Mississippi.
"The diversity of wildlife in the state provides opportunities for landowners to develop an outdoor enterprise," Jones said. "Much of the state is in the Mississippi Flyway, a route used by neotropical birds and waterfowl for migration. This means that at certain times of the year many colorful birds make a stop here."
Landowners interested in pursuing an outdoor enterprise should take an inventory of the wildlife and habitats on their properties that visitors might expect to see at different times of the year.
"To improve the chances of your visitors viewing wildlife, set up wildlife viewing blinds in good locations," Jones said. "Consider providing guides to lead visitors on tours of your property."
Holding group events may reduce costs per effort. Wildlife photography workshops led by a professional photographer can offer visitors an enjoyable outdoor learning experience and introduce them to the property.
"Workshops, such as a wildlife photography workshop, can build interest in your property," Jones said.
A wildlife photography workshop held by the Mississippi Wildlife Federation usually attracts around 50 amateur photographers of varying ages.
"We have offered a photography workshop once or twice a year for the last 10 years," said Melanie Starnes, events director for the Mississippi Wildlife Federation. "Our workshops are generally one to two days, and the format changes each year, depending on who is leading the class and the skill level we are targeting."
As with any business activity, adequate planning, rules and safety measures are important.
"Landowners who charge a fee for access to their land should obtain liability insurance and take precautions to ensure the safety of their customers," Jones said. "In addition, providing amenities such as lodging, guides, food and other activities can allow you to charge a higher fee."
The Natural Resource Enterprises program at Mississippi State University can assist landowners with starting and managing an outdoor recreation business. The program is a joint effort of the MSU Extension Service, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, and Forest and Wildlife Research Center.
For more information about the Natural Resource Enterprises program, visit www.naturalresources.msstate.edu.