March 19, 2004
Wildlife, Nature Tourism Can Stimulate Local Economy
Soaring high above river bluffs, a bald eagle is oblivious to the binoculars trained on her from visitors below. The nearby community, which provides lodging, transportation and other services to bird-watchers who flock to the area each spring, however, is very much aware of the economic benefit brought by these tourists.
Watching wildlife is a thrill shared by growing numbers of people, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. In 2001, 82 million Americans participated in wildlife-recreation activities and spent more than $38 billion in the process. In fact, wildlife-viewing activities are recognized as one of the fastest growing segments of wildlife-based recreation. And the potential these activities hold for stimulating the local economy in suburban, rural and exurban areas is also sky-high.
"Any community with protected natural resources can tap into this economic benefit while protecting and enhancing their local wildlife," said Kelly Cain, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. To teach people how to establish wildlife-watching opportunities, the University and Watchable Wildlife, Inc., an international wildlife-viewing organization, have developed an online graduate-level certificate.
"The Wildlife Recreation and Nature Tourism Certificate will help conservationists, community leaders, tourism directors, and recreation and hospitality providers build the skills necessary to effectively conserve their natural resources while generating jobs and revenue for their communities," Cain said. "Students will learn how to be better economists as well as better environmentalists."
The first of its kind in the United States, the certificate offers courses via the Internet and is accessible to virtually anyone in the world, he added. Projects conducted throughout the program help students produce a business plan for an actual site, which promotes "sustainability-based development" for wildlife-viewing activities, Cain said.
The introductory course and prerequisite will be offered online beginning May 24. All students need to apply for graduate study at UW-RF before registering for classes. Visit http:/www.watchwildlife.com or call the UW-RF Graduate Studies Office at 715/425-3256 or 800-228-5607 for more information.
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