ELKINS - The West Virginia Chapter of The Nature Conservancy's efforts to preserve precious wilderness areas also has impacted the state's economy.
Since its inception in 1960 when a group of West Virginia University students and teachers saved the Cranesville Swamp in Preston County, TNC has preserved more than 120,000 acres of prime forestry.
Their efforts have created a collateral benefit to the state - tourism dollars.
State Director Rodney Bartgis said West Virginians love the land.
"When asked in a poll what native West Virginians like most about living here, the top answer is 'the beauty of our forests, streams and mountains.'"
Family and community ties were next," he said.
Bartgis said one measure of the importance of land and water conservation is the impact of hunting, fishing, bird-watching and other wildlife-related activities.
"In 2001, 843,000 participants in wildlife-related recreation in West Virginia spent about $497 million and generated $803 million in economic impacts for the state," he said. "Most of the land that The Nature Conservancy has helped conserve is available for those types of activities."
He said tourism in general is worth thinking about because when people consider traveling to West Virginia, they often think of visiting the types of places TNC helps protect - like Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley, the New River Gorge and others.
"Tourism includes more than people visiting natural areas," Bartgis said. "It also includes people visiting historic places, resorts and festivals, but outdoor recreation is a big part of tourism in West Virginia. For example - looking at just two places where we have helped conserve land - the New River Gorge National River has about 1 million visitors annually and the Monongahela National Forest sees more than 600,000 visitors each year."
He said travel spending by all overnight and day visitors in West Virginia was more than $4.27 million in the 2010 calendar year.
"It's obvious that plants, animals and people benefit by our preservation efforts," he added.