Realty: Refuge Revenue Sharing

Introduction

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal agency of the Federal Government responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. We accomplish our mission through many programs, some of which include acquisition of land for national wildlife refuges, which not only conserve wildlife habitat but also provide public opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation, such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation. The Service annually makes payments to counties and other units of local government for these tax-exempt Federal lands through its Refuge Revenue Sharing program. These payments are one of the ways the Federal Government can fulfill its role of being a good neighbor to local communities.

Budget Justification FY 2017 National Wildlife Refuge Fund (259 KB)

History

The Service makes refuge revenue sharing payments to counties and other units of local government for the lands that we administer. Starting in 1935, when the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, 16 U.S.C. 715s, was passed, the Service made payments annually to counties and other units of local government that were equivalent to 25 percent of the net receipts collected from the sale of products and privileges on national wildlife refuge lands (e.g., timber sales, grazing leases) in those areas. However, if no receipts were collected from the refuge lands, the county or other unit of local government received no payment. In 1964, Congress amended the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act to provide a payment of either 25 percent of the net receipts, or 3/4 of 1 percent of the adjusted purchase price of refuge land, whichever was greater. Counties and other units of local government containing land that was reserved from the public domain (i.e., land that has never left Federal ownership) for national wildlife refuge purposes continued to receive 25 percent of the net receipts.

Beginning in Fiscal Year 1976, receipts from refuge lands were not sufficient to make the full payments authorized under the 1964 amendment to the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, and the Service reduced payments proportionally in accordance with the Act. It was partly because of this that Congress amended the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act again in 1978. The 1978 amendments provide that:

  1. Congress can appropriate funds to make up any shortfall in the refuge revenue sharing fund.
  2. All lands administered solely or primarily by the Service (not just national wildlife refuges) qualify for revenue sharing payments.
  3. The payments to counties and other units of local government can be used for any governmental purpose.

Does the acquisition of private land by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service affect the local real property taxes?

Lands acquired in fee by the Service are removed from the local tax rolls. The Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, as amended, requires the Service to make payments annually to counties and other units of local government to help offset lost tax revenues. Due to ecotourism, national wildlife refuges often generate tax revenue for communities far in excess of what was lost from Federal acquisition of the land. Refuge lands also provide many public benefits, including public wildlife-dependent recreation and environmental education opportunities, while placing few demands on local services such as schools, fire, and police, compared to developed lands.

Does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pay taxes?

As an agency of the United States Government, the Service, like city, township, county, and state governments, is exempt from taxation. However, ecotourism associated with national wildlife refuges may generate tax revenue for communities far in excess of what was lost from Federal acquisition of the land. Refuge lands place few demands on local services such as schools, fire, and police, compared to developed lands.

How does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service compute revenue sharing payments?

For our purchased and donated land, the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, as amended, requires that our payments to counties and other units of local government be based on the greater of: (a) 3/4 of 1 percent of the market value; (b) 25 percent of the net receipts; (c) 75 cents per acre. Also, our payment to a county or other unit of local government cannot be less than our fiscal year 1977 payment for the land. In contrast, for public domain land that was never on the tax rolls, the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act requires us to pay counties and other units of local government 25 percent of the net receipts collected on those lands.

What lands are included under the provisions of the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act?

All lands that are administered solely or primarily by the Service are covered by the Act. These include national wildlife refuges, waterfowl production areas, national fish hatcheries, and administrative sites.

Are payments for Public Domain lands computed on the same basis as lands that are purchased?

Refuge revenue sharing payments for public domain land (i.e., land that has never left Federal ownership) are computed differently from payments for purchased and donated land. If there are refuge receipts (i.e., income) associated with public domain land, we pay 25 percent of the net receipts to the county or other unit of local government. If there are no refuge receipts associated with the public domain land, then we make no refuge revenue sharing payment to the county or other unit of local government for the land.

All public domain land is “entitlement land” under 31 USC 69, and qualifies for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments.  Under 31 USC 69, purchased and donated land administered by the Service is not entitlement land and therefore does not qualify for PILT payments.  The Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Office of the Secretary administers the PILT program, calculates PILT payments to counties and other units of local government, and distributes the funds appropriated by Congress. More information on the PILT program is available at https://www.doi.gov/pilt, including payment computation information and PILT payment statistics.

Is there a minimum revenue sharing payment?

Pursuant to a 1978 amendment to the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, our payment to a county or other unit of local government for our purchased and donated land cannot be less than the payment we made in fiscal year 1977.  There is no minimum refuge revenue sharing payment for public domain land, since the revenue sharing payment is based on the income from these lands.

When does the Service make refuge revenue sharing payments?

The Service usually makes the payments during the second quarter of each calendar year.

Who receives the payment?

The Service makes the payment to the county or other unit of local government that levies and collects real property taxes. It may be the county, the township, the borough, or the city, etc.

Are there any restrictions on how the money may be spent?

Under the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, as amended, counties and other units of local government may use the money from revenue sharing payments for any governmental purpose.

Where does the Service get the money to make the revenue sharing payments?

The net income the Service receives from the sale of products or privileges on refuges, such as from timber sales and grazing leases, is deposited into the National Wildlife Refuge Fund for refuge revenue sharing payments. Congress may supplement these funds with appropriations for the National Wildlife Refuge Fund.

What if there is not enough money in the National Wildlife Refuge Fund to cover the payments?

Congress is authorized to appropriate money to make up the difference. If the amount Congress appropriates is not enough, the Service pays counties and other units of local government a pro-rata share.

What is the difference between the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act payments and other revenue sharing payments to local governments?

Refuge Revenue Sharing Act payments are made only for Service-administered lands. These payments are funded and administered separately from other Federal revenue sharing programs and the PILT program.  Service-administered public domain land qualifies for both PILT payments and refuge revenue sharing payments, whereas our purchased and donated land qualifies for refuge revenue sharing payments but not PILT payments.

For Further Information

Contact realty@fws.gov for additional information concerning refuge revenue sharing payments.

Summaries