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Report gauges birding interest
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SOCIAL CIRCLE — Bird watching is a multibillion-dollar activity nationwide with wide appeal in Georgia, where more than 1 million people took part in 2006, according to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.

"Birding the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis" shows that one in five Americans watch birds. The recreation contributed $36 billion to the nation’s economy in 2006, the most recent year for which economic data are available.

In Georgia, 15 percent of state residents were classified as birders during the survey year. That figure ranks below the U.S. average of 21 percent, but Georgia residents comprised 88 percent of the 1.2 million bird watchers in the state. Only 11 states had a greater percentage of residents involved, and only 18 had more birders.

Birding "is an activity that is accessible to almost all of Georgia’s citizens," said Mike Harris, Nongame Conservation Section chief with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division.

In support, the division, part of the state Department of Natural Resources, works to conserve birds and critical habitat so Georgia’s diversity and populations of birds "will be available for future generations," Harris said.

The South is home to one-third of the nation’s bird watchers, more than any other region. But states in the northern half of the U.S. ranked highest in participation rates. Montana led with 40 percent of residents 16 and older fitting the survey’s definition of birders, people who traveled a mile or more from home to observe birds.

Birders across the country spent an estimated $12 billion on trip-related expenditures and $23.7 billion on equipment in 2006, according to the report released last week. The entire industry — including "indirect" expenditures such as the income of employees at birdhouse manufacturers — had an economic impact estimated at $82 billion, with 671,000 jobs and more than $10 billion in state and federal tax revenue.

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