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Oct 18

Refuges are Open but Still Need Funding

seal.Now that the government is back open, we hope that things can get back to some semblance of normal – at least for a while.  But as supporters of America’s wildlife and wild places, we have to remember that the Refuge System and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has taken huge budget cuts for three years; the simple re-opening of government does nothing to solve that enormous problem.  National wildlife refuges are economic engines for local communities  – they need to be open for the American public but also funded at adequate levels.

As we all have seen in so many news reports over the past two and a half weeks, the federal government shutdown had a severe impact on our economy – both national and local – including in regions reliant on national wildlife refuges. Due to the shutdown, millions of hunters missed out on hunting opportunities and local communities suffered huge financial losses from the sale of permits, lodging, food and hunting guide businesses, not to mention the losses from canceled birding events during the heart of fall migration.

If you’re not convinced that our national wildlife refuges are local economic drivers, consider the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, FL. The Ding Darling refuge generates more than $30 for every $1 appropriated by Congress. With more than 800,000 visitors each year, the refuge is an economic and tourism engine for Sanibel Island and Fort Myers, Florida. Birgie Vertesch, the Executive Director of the Ding Darling Wildlife Society, the Friends group that supports the refuge, flew to Washington last week to attend a press conference with Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) to speak about how the shutdown and overall lack of funding is affecting Florida’s local economy and small businesses.

National wildlife refuges provide tourism opportunities that drive local economies to the tune of $4 for every $1 invested.  Refuges also provide clean drinking water, flood control, storm buffers, and protect our shared national wildlife heritage. Any way you look at it, they are a great investment.

Out of all of the departments in our federal government, the FWS has one of the smallest budgets but is constantly asked to do more for the public with less funding.  Conservation programs are stretched with a lack of staff and funding for research, and management is stretched trying to do the work of several employees for the pay of just one.

The amount that our government spends on conservation is mere decimal dust compared to the budgets of other departments. FWS’s budget is .039% of the entire federal budget.

pie chart

Now that the government has re-opened, the negotiations about funding the FWS and the National Wildlife Refuge System are just beginning. Despite the fact that the amount of funding appropriated to conservation is infinitely small, lawmakers will still push to enforce severe cuts in a misguided attempt to solve the federal budget deficit. In reality, the funding cuts to agencies like FWS won’t do anything to solve the larger government spending issues, but they will affect the economic well being of the communities that rely on healthy wildlife and wild places.

Conservation is not and should not be a partisan issue. Americans across the political spectrum support conservation spending because we not only value our nation’s wildlife and public land heritage; we also see the economic value that these protected areas bring to our local communities.

So it makes no sense that the FWS budget continues to decrease and national wildlife refuges struggle to support basic conservation activities. The investments in the FWS and Refuge System are small, yet they generate exponential returns.

1 comment

  1. Betsy

    Very important post. I tweeted a link to it on our Friends’ @refugequest this morning. If every Friends group with a Twitter account did the same, this information would be accessed by greater numbers of people who can help to make a difference.

    Betsy Burch, Pres. Friends of Humboldt Bay NWR

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