Wild places boost economy

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) People living near the nation's 542 wildlife refuges also gain from the protected wildlife habitat, according to a government study that touts the economic benefits of the refuge system.

The study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds 35.5 million people visited the nation's 542 refuges in 2002, up 42 percent from 24.9 million visitors in 1995, bringing a huge boost in spending and jobs to communities located just outside the refuges.

Those visits fueled $809 million in spending in 2002 at locales near public lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System, a 70 percent increase from the $473.million spent in 1995, the study says. They also helped create 18,728 non-federal jobs in 2002, up 84 percent from 10,169 jobs in 1995, it says.

J. Steven Griles, the Interior Department's No. 2 official, said the figures reflect a recent national trend: visits to national parks have ''leveled off,'' while those to refuges and other public lands are ''skyrocketing.''

''I think it's a change in people's habits in where they want to go. They want to be in environments where they're not so structured,'' he said. ''When they go to a refuge, they can go bird watching, they can go trail walking, they can go hunting and fishing.''

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