Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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CALIFORNIA: Report Shows Visits to National Wildlife Refuges in California Generates $31 Million for Local Economies
California-Nevada Offices , November 27, 2007
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National Wildlife Refuge System.
National Wildlife Refuge System. - Photo Credit: n/a

Nearly 35 million visitors to America’s National Wildlife Refuges generated almost $1.7 billion in total economic activity during Fiscal Year 2006 according to a report issued today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 


The report, Banking on Nature 2006: The Economic Benefits to Local Communities of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation, focuses on final demand, employment, income and tax revenue effects recreational visitors to refuges have on the economies of local regions. In addition to the economic effects of refuge hunting and fishing programs in local communities, it measures the economic impact of “ecotourism,” and visits for other non-consumptive uses.  


According to the study, recreational visits to National Wildlife Refuges in the U.S. provided employment for nearly 27,000 people and generated $542.8 million in employment income.  Additionally, recreational spending on refuges generated $185.31 million in tax revenue at the local, county, state and federal level.  The economic benefit is almost four times the amount appropriated to the Refuge System in Fiscal Year 2006.  About 87 percent of refuge visitors travel from outside the local area.   


“We’ve always known that national wildlife refuges enrich Americans’ lives,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall.  “This report reveals that the Refuge System, while admirably fulfilling its conservation mission, also repays us in dollars and cents.  Those economic benefits go far beyond the system’s mandated mission to ensure wild creatures will always have a place on the American landscape.”


Service economists used data from two sources to create a profile of visitors’ spending in local communities: the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2007 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation and the National Wildlife Refuge Systems’ Annual Performance Plan (RAPP).  Economists used findings from 80 national wildlife refuges – including six in California -- considered typical in terms of the nation's recreational interests and spending habits. The California refuges include: Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR, Sacramento NWR, San Luis, NWR, Stone Lakes NWR, Modoc NWR and Kern NWR.  


According to the report, more than 1.8 million people visited the six California refuges during 2006, spending more than $31 million on activities ranging from observing wildlife and birding to hunting and fishing.  Additionally, recreational spending provided employment for 387 people and generated more than $14 million in income and more than $6.3 million in tax revenue.


“The report shows that our refuges are not only great natural places where people in California can connect with nature, but are places that help generate economic benefits for nearby communities,” said Steve Thompson, regional director for the Service’s California and Nevada Region.

In California, the majority of visitors and revenue comes from non-consumptive activities.  At Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR, for example, more than 1.5 million people visited the refuge in 2006, spending more than $16 million, 98 percent of which was spent on non-consumptive activities such as birding, (674,060) wildlife observation (74,896) and nature trail use (748,955).  Approximately 7,500 visitors used the refuge for hunting (3,800) and fishing (3,700) and accounted for just two percent of revenue.  Final demand –the total spent by people who earn income from visitors’ activities and spending by refuge visitors themselves—totaled $15.1 million, with associated employment of 196 jobs and $3.8 million in total tax revenue.  The refuge also returned $43.55 for every $1 in federal budget expenditures. 


While considerably fewer in number, people who hunt or fish on refuges spend proportionately more money than those who participate in non-consumptive activities.  For example, at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, 94 percent of refuge visitors --more than 129,000 people—participated in non-consumptive activities, spending $757,000.  Only 6 percent of refuge visitors--8,100 people--used the refuge for small game and waterfowl hunting, but spent nearly $1 million.  


The California refuges in the study are among 548 in the 95 million acre National Wildlife Refuge System. While the primary purpose of the Refuge System is to conserve native fish and wildlife and their habitat, priority is given to hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, wildlife observation, environmental education, and interpretation.


Other significant findings (national scope):


-- About 82 percent of total expenditures came from non-consumptive recreation (recreation other than hunting and fishing) on national wildlife refuges.  Fishing accounted for 12 percent of total expenditures, while hunting accounted for 6 percent.  


-- The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years by the Service, found that more than 87 million Americans, or 38 percent of the United States' population age 16 and older, pursued outdoor recreation in 2006.  They spent $120 billion that year pursuing those activities.  About 71 million people observed wildlife, while 30 million fished and 12.5 million hunted. 


-- The Southeast Region—with such popular attractions as Okefenokee, J.N. “Ding” Darling and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges—had the most visitors in Fiscal Year 2006 with 9.4 million.  Spending in the region also supported the highest number of jobs, at 7,381.


-- Of the report’s 80 national wildlife refuges, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia reported the most recreational visits (about 7.5 million) as well as the most jobs, at 3,766, and generated the most economic return, at $315.4 million.  It also showed the greatest economic benefit, with $155.42 returned for every $1 in budgeted expenditures. 


For a copy of the report or to find more information on the National Wildlife Refuge System, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/.


More information about refuges in California is available at: http://www.fws.gov/cno

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov
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