Refuge Revenue Sharing

Through the Refuge Revenue Sharing program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes annual payments to counties and other units of local government for the tax-exempt lands that the Service administers. These payments are one way the federal government fulfills its role of being a good neighbor to local communities.

History

Since 1935, following passage of the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, 16 U.S.C. 715s, the Service has made annual payments to counties and other units of local government. Initially, these payments were equivalent to 25 percent of the net receipts collected from the sale of products and privileges (such as timber sales and grazing leases) on national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Learn more about national wildlife refuge
lands. 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 (land that 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. Partly as a result, 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. Because of 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 Service 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, Service 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 the Service 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 (land that has never left federal ownership) are computed differently from payments for purchased and donated land. If there are refuge receipts (income) associated with public domain land, the Service pays 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 the Service makes 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 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. Learn more about the PILT programincluding payment computation information

Is there a minimum revenue sharing payment? 

Pursuant to a 1978 amendment to the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, Service payment to a county or other unit of local government for Service-purchased and donated land cannot be less than the payment the Service 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 more information, contact realty@fws.gov.

historical-summary-refuge-revenue-sharing-payments

Data table that provides an overview of available annual funding and payments since 1972 for the Refuge Revenue Sharing program.

refuge-revenue-sharing-payment-summary-by-state

Data table that provides a summary by State of the FY 2021 Refuge Revenue Sharing payments for the FWS land status as of September 30, 2020.

refuge-revenue-sharing-payment-summary-by-state-and-local-government

Data table that provides a listing by State and County (and other forms of local government) of FY 2021 Refuge Revenue Sharing payments for the FWS land status as of September 30, 2020.