MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The U.S. Secretary of the Interior says the nation’s wildlife system is not only the world’s largest network of land dedicated to conservation, but it is also an economic engine for communities across the country.

Sally Jewell released the report “Banking on Nature” at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington on Tuesday.

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“Wildlife refuges hosted more than 46.5 million visitors and that pumped at least $2.4 billion into the economy, and supported 35,000 jobs,” Jewell said. “It’s restaurants, it’s gas stations, outfitters, it’s hospitalities, all driving visitors to the refuges.”

Part of her initiative includes engaging young people in nature as well. During her visit, students from the Lake Nokomis Community School were collecting seeds from plants and dispersing them. The Secretary joined them in the field, pointing out plants with a lot of seeds.

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Ava Winters, 7, explained why the activity is important.

“I don’t want the whole entire earth into something that’s not worth animals to live in,” she said.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is the largest network of lands in the nation set aside for wildlife, with 561 national wildlife refuges, covering 150 million acres of land.

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