Coalition calls on Congress to fund the Refuge System after report shows the economic benefit to the American public is almost five times the cost to run them
Washington, DC – A new report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Banking On Nature: The Economic Benefits to Local Communities of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation, shows that for every $1 appropriated by Congress to run the Refuge System, nearly $5 is generated in local economies. Despite the fact that the Refuge System has seen a significant increase in visitation, it has faced severe funding cuts. As Congress considers the budget bills for Fiscal Year 2014, the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) calls upon the House of Representatives and the Senate to fund the Refuge System at $499 million this year.
“As hunters, anglers, bird and wildlife watchers, scientists, conservationists and concerned Americans, we know the National Wildlife Refuge System has always been a worthy investment,” said David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Chair of the CARE coalition. “Now the data proves it – refuges provide an enormous bang for the American buck.”
The report, spanning 2006-2011, shows that even during the worst recession since the Great Depression, the overall return on investment increased substantially for the Refuge System as well as every other major indicator. From 2006-2011 the Refuge System saw the following annual increases:
- 20% increase in sales and economic output to $2.4 billion;
- 30% increase in visitors to 46.5 million;
- 22% increase in return on investment for every $1 appropriated to $4.87;
- 23% increase in jobs to 35,000.
“At the height of our economic downturn, Americans recreated on our national wildlife refuges more than ever before and that increase helped many businesses weather the economic storm,” said Houghton. “These public lands are increasingly important to hotel operators, restaurant owners, hunting guides and the countless other small businesses that depend on a vibrant Refuge System for their livelihood.”
“Refuges nationwide provide some of the best hunting and fishing for American sportsmen and women,” said Scott Kovarovics, Executive Director of the Izaak Walton League of America, “and the Banking on Nature report shows once again that taxpayers and local communities receive tremendous economic benefits when we conserve natural resources and promote sustainable outdoor recreation.”
CARE estimates that the Refuge System needs at least $900 million in annual operations and maintenance funding to properly administer its 561 refuges and 38 wetland management districts spanning over 150 million acres. At its highest funding level in FY 2010, the Refuge System received only $503 million—little more than half the needed amount. Since that time, congressional appropriations have not only failed to account for rising costs, but have been steadily backsliding. With its annual budget having declined by $50 million over the past three years, the Refuge System cannot afford to lose another penny.
The Refuge System always did “more with less” but now, after three years of budget cuts, it has to do “less with less”. Everything from acres of invasive species being treated to volunteer hours were down substantially in FY 2013 and further budget cuts will simply make many operations impossible.
“We hope Congress looks at this report and sees what a great investment we have in the National Wildlife Refuge System,” continued Houghton. “Let our decision makers retain funding for the programs like refuges that grow our economy.”
- Wildlife refuges generate more than $32.3 billion each year in natural goods and services, such as buffering coastal communities from storm surges, filtering pollutants from municipal water supplies, and pollinating food crops.
- The more than 46 million hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers, photographers and other recreationists who visit wildlife refuges generate $2.4 billion in sales to local communities each year.
- Visitors to refuges generated $342.9 million in local, county, state and federal tax revenue.
- 77% of refuge spending was done by visitors from outside the local area.
Get more details on the Banking on Nature report on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Web site.