Conservation efforts and land management practices at national wildlife refuges can have profoundly positive economic and ecological effects on local communities across the nation.

Banking on Nature, a 2013 peer-reviewed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, found that refuges are strong economic engines locally, pumping $2.4 billion into the economy and supporting more than 35,000 jobs. Additionally, the report found that refuges contributed an average of $4.87 in total economic output for every $1 appropriated in fiscal year 2011.

“This study shows that national wildlife refuges repay us in dollars and cents even as they enrich our lives by protecting America’s natural heritage and providing great recreation,” Service Director Dan Ashe said at the time of the report. “That’s inspiring and important news.”

The report also found that spending by refuge visitors in fiscal 2011 generated nearly $343 million in local, county, state and federal tax revenue, and that 77 percent of refuge spending was done by non-local visitors.

Among refuges the report cited as exemplary were:

  • Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, where visitors produced nearly $30 million in economic effects from the refuge’s $801,000 budget.
  • Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, whose visitors supported 1,394 jobs and produced $226 million in economic effects on a $4.9 million budget.
  • Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, whose visitors supported about 900 jobs and produced $106 million in economic effects on a $3.9 million budget.
Furthermore, the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which informed the Banking on Nature report and is published by the Service every five years, found that more than 90 million Americans, or 41 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older, pursued wildlife-related outdoor recreation in 2011, and spent nearly $145 billion.

The ecological benefits that wildlife conservation, land management practices and habitat restoration at and near refuges provide to local communities can be harder to quantify, but they are important.

Refuge wetlands and grasslands serve as absorbent sponges that reduce runoff and help in flood control. Their vegetation helps reduce carbon emissions. Refuge habitat restoration often improves water quality, insect control, erosion control, fishing and boating access, and storm surge protection. For instance, since Superstorm Sandy in 2012 the Service has been leading 31 projects to restore coastal marshes, wetlands and shoreline; create open connections to rivers and streams for fish passage; and reduce the risk of flooding from future storms.

About a dozen of those projects are at or near refuges from Maine to North Carolina.

Prescribed burns at and near refuges are important to public safety because they reduce hazardous fuels (dry underbrush and other vegetation) that, if left uncontrolled, can result in catastrophic wildfires.

In the West, ranchers who cooperate with the Service, refuges and other agencies have found that managing their land in a way that is beneficial to greater sage- grouse is also beneficial to their cattle. In fact, they have a saying: “What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.”

Finally, a 2012 North Carolina State University study found that being within half a mile of a refuge in an urban area can increase the value of a home by up to 9 percent.

This Refuge Update highlights examples of where the Service, refuges and communities are getting great bang for the buck.