JUNEAU -- Additional wildlife tourism could be a valuable boost to Alaska's economy, said James Mallman, president of Watchable Wildlife Inc.
"There's an incredible economic opportunity with wildlife in this country," Mallman said. "At the same time, there's an incredible responsibility that the commodities we've come to value aren't destroyed."
To that end, he added, Watchable Wildlife, a nonprofit organization based in Minnesota, sponsors numerous conferences and projects around the nation. All are intended to emphasize the economic appeal of nonconsumptive wildlife activities such as hiking and bird-watching.
Alaska is a member of the organization, and Mallman said suggestions of possible undertakings are beginning to come in from around the state.
"Projects in Juneau are just starting to crop up," he told a luncheon meeting of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce last week. "Meetings like this bring in ideas."
New ideas and a shift to nonconsumptive activities may be necessary for the future, Mallman said. He cited statistics that show the popularity of hunting in a 10-year decline, while the number of people choosing nonconsumptive activities has "gone right through the roof."
"The need for the wild in our lives -- this is a very, very interesting and probably not-too-well-documented phenomenon," Mallman said.
He attributed the growth to the "all-work, no-play syndrome" presently sweeping America, citing statistics that the United States has passed Japan in the number of hours worked per day.
More women in the workplace and more single-family homes also are factors, he added.
"This has had a significant impact on our purchases and what we want to do with our leisure time," Mallman said.
During the 1999 tourism season, shopping was the most popular activity among domestic travelers. However, numbers two through six, including outdoor recreation and national and state parks, were all part of wildlife tourism, Mallman said.
Growth in many industries -- particularly bird-watching -- also demonstrates the potential of wildlife tourism, he said.
"If you want to put heads on beds, wildlife vacations are the way to go," Mallman said.
In addition, Watchable Wildlife thinks there are strong benefits to communities that emphasize nonconsumptive nature programs.
"Wildlife tourism improves the quality of living in a community," Mallman said. "When you make it more accessible to the general public, you make it a better place to live."
Watchable Wildlife comes only to communities where it is invited, Mallman said. While providing assistance on projects, its representatives take care to address all issues and fold in all concerned agencies, he said.
"It allows us to work with these communities and have an impact on how they treat their resources," he said of the group's methods. "You'll never see us tied to a tree or running in front of boats."
Genevieve Gagne-Hawes is a reporter at the Juneau Empire.
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