Wildlife Refuges Boost Local Economies

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U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt recently announced that 53.6 million people visited national wildlife refuges in 2017, which had an economic impact of $3.2 billion on local communities and supported more than 41,000 jobs.

The figures come from a new economic report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service titled Banking on Nature 2017: The Economic Contributions of National Wildlife Refuge Recreational Visitation to Local CommunitiesThe report is the sixth in a series of studies since 1997 that measure the economic contributions of national wildlife refuge recreational visits to local economies.

“The National Wildlife Refuge System continues to be a strong economic engine for local communities, supporting tens of thousands of jobs across the country. President Trump is committed to expanding public access to these natural resources and improving recreation infrastructure, so more people have the opportunity to experience our world class refuges and enjoy the great outdoors,” said Secretary Bernhardt.”

The report analyzes recreational visitation at 162 national wildlife refuges around the country to estimate the economic role refuge visitors play in local economies. This report uses the individual refuge results to estimate the local economic contributions of the entire Refuge System.

“Millions of visitors are drawn each year to the Refuge System’s world-renowned wildlife-related recreation opportunities, generating local economic benefits,” said Margaret Everson, Principal Deputy Director, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “National wildlife refuges demonstrate that in addition to conserving our nation’s wild heritage like bald eagles and bison, migratory waterfowl populations and some of our nation’s most important waterways, these public lands and waters add real value to local economies.”

National wildlife refuges generate many individual and societal benefits, including fish and wildlife conservation, open space, science and education, water quality improvement and flood resilience. The thriving fish and wildlife populations of the Refuge System also attract millions of recreational users. Some visitors take part in heritage sports, such as hunting and fishing, where those activities are compatible with refuge management goals and other recreational activities. Others enjoy hiking, paddling, wildlife viewing or nature photography.

Wildlife-related recreation fuels the economy throughout the nation. The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years by the Service, informs the Banking on Nature report. The most recent survey found that more than 103 million Americans, or 40 percent of the United States population age 16 and older, pursued wildlife-related outdoor recreation in 2016 and spent nearly $156.9 billion.

The Banking on Nature study also found:

  • National wildlife refuges are seen widely as travel-worthy destinations: 83 percent of refuge spending was done by visitors from outside the local area — an increase of 9 percent from the 2011 study.
  • Trip-related spending generated $3.2 billion of economic output in regional economies — an increase of 20 percent from the 2011 report.
  • More than 41,000 jobs (up 18 percent from 2011) and $1.1 billion in employment income (up 22 percent) were generated.
  • The combined economic contribution to communities nationwide is more than six times the $483.9 million appropriated by Congress to the Refuge System in FY 2017.
  • This edition of Banking on Nature is the most comprehensive to date, representing a 70 percent increase in the number of refuges sampled, compared to the 2011 report.

The report contains case studies of 162 national wildlife refuges. Among the local findings:

  • Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge – Boynton, Florida: The 145,062-acre refuge protects portions of the unique northern Everglades and important species like the snail kite, wood stork and American alligator. Public programs include hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, bicycling and wildlife observation. The contribution of recreational spending in local communities was associated with about 202 jobs, $8.6 million in employment income, $1.6 million in total tax revenue, and $24.6 million in economic output.
  • Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge – Marion, Illinois: The refuge is one of the largest in the Great Lakes/Big Rivers Region providing habitat for migratory waterfowl, native fish and other wildlife species. A wide spectrum of recreational activities occur, such as water-skiing, picnicking, camping, hunting, fishing, environmental education and horseback riding. The contribution of recreational spending in local communities was associated with about 315 jobs, $8.4 million in employment income, $2.3 million in total tax revenue, and $29.2 million in economic output.
  • Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge – Sherman, Texas: One of the best-kept secrets in north Texas, the refuge provides wetland and upland habitat for more than 340 species of birds and a large variety of native wildlife. Hiking trails, hunting and fishing opportunities, free nature programs and tram tours make this a nature-lover’s paradise. The contribution of recreational spending in local communities was associated with about 46 jobs, $1.4 million in employment income, $526,000 in total tax revenue, and $4.9 million in economic output.

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