Operations & Maintenance

Refuge System Operations and Maintenance

The operations and maintenance (O&M) accounts of the National Wildlife Refuge System are the general annual operating funds for the Refuge System.  These accounts provide the bulk of the funding to manage the 150 million acres of wildlife refuge lands and waters nationwide.

The Refuge System has never had adequate funding. The NWRA-chaired Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) estimates that the Refuge System needs at least $900 million in annual funding to properly administer its refuges, and remains committed to aiming for this goal. However, the System is only funded at about half that amount.

The Refuge System’s O&M accounts have consistently grown since the creation of refuge Friends organizations and the formation of the CARE coalition in the mid-1990’s. Although budgets were flat or declining from 2005 to 2007, the System’s O&M accounts saw a $105 million increase in the subsequent three years, thanks to the leadership of NWRA and the passion of refuge Friends, advocates and the CARE coalition.

NWRA and the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement have played a major role in securing budget increases for the National Wildlife Refuge System over the past decade. Click the graph for a larger version. (* CARE was founded in 1995)

Chronic Underfunding has Consequences: A Crippling $3.3 Billion Backlog

US Fish and Wildlife Service employee in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
US Fish and Wildlife Service employee in airboat in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge | USFWS

Without adequate funding to manage the System, crucial projects never get finished and the backlog of O&M needs grows. The Refuge System has a list of deferred maintenance projects that has ballooned to more than $2.7 billion, including necessary repairs to roads, trails, dams and levees. And the System’s $677 million operations backlog includes 5,598 projects that have been delayed. Among these are staff and equipment needed to perform activities related to habitat management and restoration, public use, planning, and wildlife research and monitoring.

 What NWRA is Doing

NWRA helps refuge Friends organizations submit annual testimony to Congress calling for increased funding for the Refuge System. We also facilitate “Friends Fly-Ins” where Friends come to Capitol Hill and meet with their elected officials, and we help Friends orchestrate trips for members of Congress to their local refuge.

Since 2005, NWRA has chaired the diverse Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) and organized annual reports, Refuge System funding fact sheets, press conferences, testimony and meetings with decision-makers in Washington, D.C.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/advocacy/funding/refuge-system/o-m/