Budget Cuts And Closures Threaten Wildlife Refuges

CREDIT: Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

What do deer hunters in North Carolina, birdwatchers in Texas, and kayakers in Virginia have in common? They all contribute to the critical and growing “recreation economy,” as evidenced in a new report released Tuesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The report reveals that the nation’s 561 national wildlife refuges provide major economic benefits every year, including $2.4 billion, more than 35,000 jobs, and an average of $4.87 in total economic output for every dollar appropriated. At nearly 150 million acres, there are nearly twice as many national wildlife refuge acres as national parks have.

This data adds to the growing evidence that public lands are good for the economy. Other recent studies have shown that home values are higher near refuges and that jobs in non-metro Western U.S. counties comprised of more than 30 percent public lands increased by 300 percent.

And yet despite these varied economic contributions, every single refuge across America was closed in early October due to Tea Party Republicans’ government shutdown. This created outrage among many constituents, including those who were planning on hunting during open season or catching the start of fall’s colors. As a representative of the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance put it at the time:

Rural communities depend on the dollars that sportsmen bring each fall, and commercial hunting guides are being deprived of income during their peak earning period – akin to Christmas for retailers. This is not merely a delay — it is a loss of real income that these communities and small business owners will never get back.

Nevertheless, Congressional attacks on refuges continue. Unless the automatic so-called “sequester” cuts are ended, many wildlife refuges will need to be shuttered for at least part of next year, causing economic harm to local communities. Moreover, the budget put forward by House Republicans would slash the budget of refuges even further – back to the spending levels of fiscal year 2004. And, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) is promoting a bill that would take away the president’s authority to establish new refuges in a well-studied, collaborative way.