America’s national wildlife refuges continue to be strong economic engines for local communities across the country, pumping $2.4 billion into the economy and supporting more than 35,000 jobs, according to a new national report released yesterday by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. The report, released during a visit to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, comes on the heels of last week’s major speech outlining her conservation vision for the country and unveiling an ambitious youth initiative.
“Our National Wildlife Refuge System is the world’s greatest network of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, but it is also a powerful economic engine for local communities across the country, attracting more than 46 million visitors from around the world who support local restaurants, hotels, and other businesses,” said Jewell. “In addition to conserving and protecting public lands for future generations, the report shows that every dollar we invest in our Refuge System generates huge economic dividends for our country.”
The peer reviewed report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Banking on Nature, finds refuges contributed an average $4.87 in total economic output for every $1 appropriated in Fiscal Year 2011.
“This study shows that national wildlife refuges repay us in dollars and cents even as they enrich our lives by protecting America’s natural heritage and providing great recreation,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “That’s inspiring and important news, especially as our economy continues to gain strength.”
The National Wildlife Refuge System is the largest network of lands in the nation set aside for wildlife, with 561 national wildlife refuges – at least one refuge in every state – covering more than 150 million acres.
Wildlife-related recreation fuels much of this economic contribution. The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which informs theBanking on Nature report and is published every five years by the Service, found that more than 90 million Americans, or 41 percent of the United States’ population age 16 and older, pursued wildlife-related outdoor recreation in 2011, and spent nearly $145 billion.
Among other key findings from the USFWS Banking on Nature report:
- Spending by refuge visitors generated nearly $343 million in local, county, state and federal tax revenue;
- National wildlife refuges are seen widely as travel-worthy destinations: 77% of refuge spending was done by visitors from outside the local area; and
- The combined economic contribution to communities nationwide is almost five times the $492 million appropriated to the Refuge System in FY 2011.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is located within the urban and suburban areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The refuge is a popular destination for visitors from across the region and around the world. Accounting for 82 percent of all refuge visitations, local residents utilize it the most.
This extensive system of protected lands is bordered by urban development and city life. This expanse is comprised of 14 linear units totaling approximately 14,000 acres that spans 99 miles of the Minnesota River.
The focal point of the refuge is the visitor center, which features 8,000 square-feet of exhibit space, a 125-seat auditorium, two multi-purpose classrooms, a bookstore, an art gallery, and an observation deck.
Refuge staff welcome students and their families for environmental education and interpretative programs year-round and the refuge has fostered a robust relationship with local schools throughout the metro.
The national report also features Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, which spans Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. This unique refuge is known worldwide as a recreational destination. The most recent data show that recreational visitors generated $226 million in economic effects on a budget of $4.9 million – which is about $46 for every $1 in budget expenditure. The refuge also supports the greatest number of jobs of all sampled refuges at 1,394 jobs.
The Banking on Nature report used 92 national wildlife refuges for its economic sampling. Daily per-person spending data were drawn from the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation and the Service’s Refuge Annual Performance Plan (RAPP) for FY 2011.
Researchers examined visitor spending in four areas − food, lodging, transportation and other expenses (such as guide fees, land-use fees and equipment rental). Local economies were defined as those within 50 miles of each of the 92 refuges studied. The national estimate was reached by extrapolating results for these 92 refuges to the Refuge System as a whole.
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service