The Delmarva Peninsula's natural areas are more than just pretty sights to look at - they're a major source of income and employment for Eastern Shore communities, according to a new report.

The report, released today by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, says that boaters, hunters, anglers, bird-watchers and other outdoor lovers spend up to $3.9 billion annually enjoying the Delmarva's natural areas and support more than 27,900 jobs.

Hunting, fishing and wildlife watching draw an estimated 1.6 million participants, according to the report by Southwick Associates of Fernandina Beach, FL.  With 127,000 boats registered in the region, recreational boating accounts for more than $1.3 billion in annual sales and supports 11,000-plus jobs paying wages of more than $400 million.

Nature tourism in Dorchester County alone adds $367 million to the local economy and supports nearly 7,000 jobs, the report figures.  Nature also provides a boost to the real estate industry, it notes, adding almost 20 percent to the value of homes next to natural areas.

The report tallies the peninsula's traditional fishing and farming economies. It estimates that commercial fishing in Maryland and Virginia lands a combined 610 million pounds of product worth more than $300 million annually. It also counts nearly 7,000 farms cultivating 1.3 million acres and producing $2.8 billion in farm products.

Besides the dollars generated for outdoor recreation, fishing and farming, the region's natural areas also provide valuable ecological benefits,the report notes.  The peninsula's 1.7 million acres of wetlands, for instance, provide upwards of $14 billion in water quality, habitat and other functions of importance to the environment.

The conservation group's spokeswoman says it hopes the report prompts policymakers in Washington to think twice about slashing federal funding for agencies and programs of importance to outdoor recreation.

"Absolutely, we're in tough economic times right now," said the partnership's Katie McKalip.  But the numbers in our report underscore the fact these resources are valuable.  We need to be doing everything we can to preserve them and shore up programs that are critical to their being responsibly managed."

The group released a statement of support from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-MD, which concludes: "An investment in conservation, including in the remarkable natural regions surrounding the Bay, is an investment in the health and prosperity of our Maryland communities.”