Congress Takes the “Wild” out of National Refuges with Funding Cuts

from Wildlife Promise

A family of limpkins in Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Scott Helfrich.

A family of limpkins in Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Scott Helfrich.

It’s a well-known secret that some of the best places in the world to spot wildlife are at America’s refuges. From the annual bird migrations at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico to the vast caribou herds of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, our refuges provide unparalleled wildlife viewing opportunities.

By promising these one-of-a-kind wildlife encounters, America’s refuges draw millions of visitors each year. In turn, these visits bring in big bucks to local communities—refuges pump an estimated $2.4 billion into the economy and support more than 350,000 jobs nationwide.

However, according to a new report by the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), a steady decline in congressional funding is making it harder to maintain our refuges, limiting opportunities to hunt, fish and view wildlife on refuge lands. As a result, these funding cuts also threaten the economic vitality of hundreds of local communities that rely on the tourism and recreation dollars that refuges provide.

America’s National Wildlife Refuges: Home for Wildlife, Haven for Wildlife Enthusiasts” says that without adequate funding for basic maintenance and repairs, refuges will be forced to reduce visitor services and wildlife habitat management.

Sunrise over Salt Marsh in Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Rebecca Miller.

Sunrise over Salt Marsh in Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Rebecca Miller.

Budget Cuts Taking a Toll

A few examples of how funding cuts are impacting refuges across the country:

  • In the now completely unstaffed Tern Island in the Hawaiian Islands Refuge, green turtles, seabirds, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal are suffering increased mortality as a result of entrapment in marine debris;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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.

What’s at Stake

A great egret is reflected in the brackish water of a lagoon in J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Richard Fortune.

A great egret is reflected in the brackish water of a lagoon in J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Richard Fortune.

The report notes the benefits wildlife refuges provide, and also what is at stake if funds were to be cut:

  • Nearly 47.5 million people visited national wildlife refuges last year, and their spending supported 35,000 private U.S. jobs;
  • 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;
  • 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 ‘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.

Learn more at www.fundrefuges.org