Banking on Nature


We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know that public lands are valuable and those who visit them know that they help improve the quality of life and the health of the community. There are countless benefits to having access to recreation like birding, hiking, hunting and fishing, but did you know that public lands are good for the economy too?

While there are all sorts of measurable benefits ranging from air and water quality to biodiversity and habitat protection, we also track how public lands bring money and jobs into your local economy. For more than 20 years, we’ve been publishing a national assessment that highlights economic contributions associated with recreational use on National Wildlife Refuge System lands. Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge was featured in the latest assessment along with more than 160 other refuges and wetland management districts. Here are some highlights.

Located west of Marion, Illinois, on the northern edge of the Ozark foothills, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest refuges in the Midwest Region. Established in 1947, the 43,890-acre Refuge includes three man-made lakes totaling 8,700 surface acres. The refuge landscape also includes hardwood and pine forests, croplands, grasslands, wetlands, rolling hills and rugged terrain. The 4,050-acre Crab Orchard Wilderness, the first wilderness area designated in the state of Illinois, is within the refuge.

Crab Orchard is unique in the National Wildlife Refuge System in having an industrial program that generates $40 million annually to the local economy. The refuge is also the only national wildlife refuge to have resident group camps. Boaters and outdoor enthusiasts love Crab Orchard! With three lakes, the refuge is a popular for boating, water-skiing and swimming. Both RV and tent camping are also very popular at the refuge and people come from all over to hunt, fish, watch wildlife, learn about the natural world, go horseback riding and practice photography. Crab Orchard has great public facilities too, like developed campgrounds, marinas, boat ramps, picnic areas, hiking trails, a wildlife drive and all sorts of observation decks and blinds.

With the Carbondale-Marion metropolitan area less than a 30 minute drive away, it’s no surprise that the refuge is a hotspot for recreationalists of all interests. In 2017, the refuge had about 889,000 recreational visits which contributed to the economies of Jackson, Union and Williamson Counties. Non-consumptive recreation - things like birding, photography and hiking - accounted for about 674,000 of those visits, with residents comprising 75 percent of that visitation. This type of recreation brought in $20.8 million to the local economy, with non-residents accounting for $10.3 million or 69 percent of those expenditures.

Refuges like Crab Orchard help fuel the American economy. These tangible benefits are in addition to the invaluable ecosystem services like flood and erosion protection, air and water purification and wildlife habitat protection.

Learn more by checking out the full report: Banking on Nature 2017: The Economic Contributions of National Wildlife Refuge Recreational Visitation to Local Communities