Refuges Nourish Local Economies

Last year, people flocked to refuges up and down the East Coast as far south as North Carolina’s Outer Banks to see what some call “the elusive snowy owls,” Arctic birds that are rare winter visitors in those areas.  This winter, the owls have been spotted at Sachuest Point NWR in Rhode Island, the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR in New Jersey and Bombay Hook NWR in Delaware.  Hundreds of curious fans are rushing to these sites to get a glimpse of this majestic bird with lemon yellow eyes.  These fans spend hours peering through their binoculars and scopes, but they also spend money.

This infographic depicts the information from the Banking on Nature Report which was released in 2013 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This infographic depicts the information from the Banking on Nature Report which was released in 2013 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Every year, the Virginia Ornithology Society members brave the ocean-whipped wind and cold in a winter trip to Virginia’s Chincoteague NWR, a barrier island refuge.  The town of Chincoteague can almost seem asleep in the off season, for lack of beachgoers and family-filled vehicles.  But when the birders come to town, people fill motel rooms, buy meals in restaurants, fill up their gas tanks and shop in local stores.  In 2006, over seven million people visited Chincoteague; 6.6 million of those came from out of town.  Their visits generated $239 million in expenditures, supported 3,766 jobs and produced $50.3 million in tax revenue – not shabby for a town that goes virtually dormant in winter, at least in human terms.

To some, our nation’s wildlife refuges may seem like remote, out-of-the-way places, but they are integral parts of larger communities and in fact, major players in local economies.  Consider this fact: For every $1.00 Congress appropriates, refuges return nearly $5.00 to local economies in jobs, sales, income and tax revenue.  Wildlife refuges are both prized havens of flora and fauna and significant economic drivers in their home communities.

As Congress crunches the numbers, let’s look at some more refuge numbers. They tell a compelling story:

  • The nation has over 560 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts, totaling 150 million acres of land and water across the country with at least one refuge in each state.
  • Refuges harbor over 700 species of birds, 220 mammals, 250 reptiles and 200 fish.
  • The 47 million visitors to refuges every year generate between $2.4 and $4.2 billion for local economies.
  • Economists say that every one percent cut in visitation reduces economic activity by $16.9 million.
  • Refuges create 35,000 jobs.
  • Refuges provide $342.9 million in tax revenue to state and local governments.

Here are a few examples:

  • Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, a 64,000-acre bottomland hardwood forest in northeast Louisiana, is home to the Louisiana black bear and the American alligator. From raccoons to crappie, hunting and fishing are popular. The 79,000 visitors pumped $2.7 million into the local economy and $481,000 in tax revenue in 2006.
  • Benton Lake NWR, a short-grass prairie and glacier-formed wetland in central Montana’s Cascade and Chouteau Counties, had 9,100 visits in 2006. Those visitors spent $149,500, and 79 percent of that came from non-residents.
  • Modoc NWR is in northeastern California, a part of a state that tourists typically do not frequent. This high-altitude desert valley attracts over 250 species of birds and it is a staging area for waterfowl in the spring and fall migrations, which lures birdwatchers and others.  The refuge’s 15,000 visits in 2006 generated $314,000 in expenditures and $57,000 in tax revenue.
  • Wheeler NWR between Huntsville and Decatur in northern Alabama, is a 34,500-acre refuge on the edge of the Mississippi flyway, a favorite wintering habitat for migrating waterfowl.  Its diverse habitat types also attract over 285 species of songbirds, 115 species of fish and other wildlife.  The refuge had 249,840 fishing visits in 2006 and 590,700 total visitors who generated almost $12 million in expenditures, 202 jobs and $2.2 million in tax revenue.
  • Three Oklahoma refuges attract visitors from near and far. Sequoyah NWR in east-central Oklahoma has the largest concentration of snow geese in the state and many wading birds in the summer and fall.  Established in 1946, Tishomingo NWR, at 16,464 acres, is in south-central Oklahoma is part of the central flyway.  Washita NWR, established in 1961 in west-central Oklahoma, is a feeding and resting area for sandhill cranes and other migrating and wintering waterfowl.    Washita had 59,000 visitors in 2006 who spent $1.1 million in nearby communities.
  • Eastern Neck NWR, a 2,286-acre island in Maryland, sits at the confluence of the Chester River and Chesapeake Bay.  As a critical staging site for over 240 bird species, like tundra swans, bald eagles and peregrine falcons, it is a popular day trip for people from Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia, attracting over 104,000 people in 2006.  Those visitors put $2.7 million into the local economy and generated almost $597,000 in tax revenue.
  • The diverse habitats of Bandon Marsh NWR on Oregon’s southwestern coast are home to migratory birds and anadromous fish, like steelhead and cutthroat trout.  The 4,050 visits to Bandon produced $46,400 in expenditures; 78 percent of the visitors were non-residents.

As the new Congress debates the next federal budget, our refuges, like many conservation programs, could again be threatened with budget cuts, despite refuges’ growing and unmet needs.  Let’s hope Congress looks at the bigger picture and grasps how federal dollars multiply almost five-fold as they ripple through home communities across the land.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2015/01/refuges-nourish-local-economies/

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