This morning, the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) released a new report, “America’s National Wildlife Refuges: Home for Wildlife, Haven for Wildlife Enthusiasts.” According to the report, the steady decline in congressional funding is threatening the economic vitality of hundreds of local communities that rely on the tourism and recreation dollars that refuges provide.
Without adequate funding for basic maintenance and repairs, refuges will be forced to reduce visitor services and wildlife habitat management, which will reduce opportunities to hunt, fish, and view wildlife on refuge lands.
“More than $2.4 billion generated in local economies is at stake,” said David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, which leads CARE. “National wildlife refuges are economic engines, but without sufficient funding from Congress, those engines are going to stall.”
The CARE coalition is comprised of 23 wildlife, sporting and conservation organizations that span the political spectrum, representing 16 million Americans who value outdoor recreation, scientific research and wildlife conservation. The report notes the benefits wildlife refuges provide, and also what is at stake if funds were to be cut.
Among the report highlights:
- In FY 2013, more than 38,000 people spent 1.4 million hours volunteering on refuges, a contribution worth an estimated $31 million, or the equivalent of 702 full-time employees;
Nearly 47.5 million people visited national wildlife refuges last year, and their spending supported 35,000 private U.S. jobs;
- The jobs created by and around refuges generate an estimated $800 million in employment income and adds nearly $343 million in local, state and federal tax revenue;
- Nearly 31 million refuge visitors participated in wildlife watching in FY2013—representing about 65-percent of all visits to the Refuge System;
- The 364 refuges open to hunting and 303 open to fishing, as well as all 38 wetland management districts open to both activities are some of the best places for these sports, which generated a combined $89.8 billion spent on hunting and fishing;
- The ‘ecosystem services’ that refuges provide, such as clean drinking water and storm buffers, are worth an estimated $32.3 billion, or $65 for every dollar Congress invests in the Refuge System.
The report also noted several examples of how budget cuts are taking a toll:
- In Alabama, Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge is expected to experience a drop of at least 80-percent in volunteer support due to the loss of coordinating staff, and Bon Secour Refuge has already seen its volunteer contribution annually decline by 2,000 hours—a loss of about $44,000 in donated time;
- In South Carolina, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge was forced to cancel its December archery hunt last year because of staff shortages and budget reductions;
Cokeville Meadows Refuge in Wyoming was unable to open a long-awaited hunting season this year due to a lack of adequate staffing to process hunting regulation updates, resulting in strained relationships with state and local partners;
- At Fish Springs Refuge in Utah, staff fell two weeks behind on refilling a major refuge wetland unit, which significantly reduced the area available for waterfowl hunting;
- At Aransas Refuge in Texas, a fishing pier is one of 12 public facilities shut down because the loss of maintenance staff has left the refuge unable to ensure such structures are safe.
- At Virginia’s Chincoteague Refuge, the number of environmental education participants in FY 2013 was 1,700—less than half what it was just five years prior due to budget cuts.