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Refuges and the Economy

An interesting study that evaluates the role that Federal Wildlife Refuges play in local economies was recently released, and provides much ammo for justifying land protection on a level that doesn't get the scrutiny it merits. The report, entitled Banking on Nature 2006: The Economic Benefits to Local Communities of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation, can be found it its entirety here.

Ohio's own Ottawa NWR tallied about 177,000 visitors in 2006, and they collectively pumped about $3.5 million into the local economy. At Ottawa, it's estimated that about $21 was produced in terms of of local economic input, for every $1 spent on the refuge by the Federales. This is an aspect of land protection that I don't think gets the due it deserves. We should take a longer view regarding large-scale land protection, and recognize that it benefits not only plant and animal populations, but humans as well. Also of interest is the conclusion that, at Ottawa, around $3.2 million was brought in by out of area visitors. Obviously, refuges drive ecotourism in a big way. I'd bet that similar figures would be produced for many nature preserves, wildlife areas, parks, etc.

The following nicely done article from the Refuge Watch blog summarizes things nicely:

Wildlife Refuges Help Local Economies
Back in 2003, the National Wildlife Refuge System celebrated its centennial anniversary with various events held around the country that showcased the amazing collection of 535+ refuges that formed the System. Many laudatory speeches were made at that time, including ones by former Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and President George W. Bush, during which they applauded the many benefits of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Now four years later, the Bush administration is pursuing its agenda to cut 565 jobs from the Refuge System — a 20% reduction — which will result in over 200 refuges having no staff at all and many visitor services and conservation programs ceasing to exist.

There is no doubt that the Refuge System is highly popular with the American public. Almost 35 million citizens visit the Refuge System annually, using the lands for recreation, education, and exercise. Yet there is an added taxpayer benefit to the Refuge System that is often overlooked — the economic boon that these lands bring to their local communities.

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Economics issued their “Banking on Nature 2006″ report, which details the many economic benefits that national wildlife refuges bring to their local towns.

According to the Service, the report “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,’ the relatively recent phenomenon of large numbers of people traveling substantial distances to take part in nonconsumptive uses of the natural environment.”

The report clearly indicates that national wildlife refuges are a great value to taxpayers, returning about $4 in economic activity for every $1 the government spends.

Below is a quick overview of some of the more interesting results:
Recreational visits to national wildlife refuges generate substantial economic activity. In FY 2006, 34.8 million people visited refuges in the lower 48 states for recreation. Their spending generated almost $1.7 billion of sales in regional economies. As this spending flowed through the economy, nearly 27,000 people were employed and $542.8 million in employment income was generated.

About 82 percent of total expenditures are generated by non-consumptive activities on refuges. Fishing accounted for 12 percent and hunting 6 percent. Local residents accounted for 13 percent of expenditures while visitors coming from outside the local area accounted for 87 percent. Refuge recreational spending generated about $185.3 million in tax revenue at the local, county, state and Federal level.

Surveys show refuge visitors would have been willing to pay more for their visit than it actually cost them. The difference between what they were willing to pay and what they actually paid is their net economic value or consumer surplus. Visitors enjoyed a consumer surplus of nearly $860 million in 2006. Over $664 million of this amount (77 percent of total net economic value) accrued to non-consumptive visitors.

The “Banking on Nature 2006″ report features a breakdown of the economic contributions of refuges from every region in the System. One good sample refuge is Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Chincoteague NWR is located in Virginia but has an economic area that includes both Accomack County in Virginia and Worcester County in Maryland. According to the report:
The Refuge had 7,485,286 visits in 2006. Non-residents accounted for 89 percent of all Refuge visits. Almost all of the visits were for non-consumptive recreation with saltwater fishing accounting for 145,200 visits and hunting accounting for 2,592 visits…

Total expenditures were $238.7 million with non-residents accounting for $232.4 million or 97 percent of total expenditures. Expenditures on non-consumptive activities accounted for 98 percent of all expenditures, followed by fishing and hunting at 2 and less than 1 percent respectively…

Final demand totaled $315 million with associated employment of 3,766 jobs, $94.8 million in employment income and $50.3 million in total tax revenue…
…for every $1 of budget expenditures, $155.42 of total economic effects are associated with these budget expenditures.

So for every $1 of taxpayer money, the local economy saw $155.42 in economic benefits. And this is just one refuge.

As Congress works with President Bush to reach a compromise on the budget stalemate, it’s important to remember that the National Wildlife Refuge System rewards American taxpayers in many ways — recreation, resource conservation, environmental education, ecosystem services, and economic benefits.Contact your representative and senators today, and remind them that you support a budget increase for the Refuge System. The annual increase that the Refuge System needs each year to keep up with inflation — $15 million — is what we spend in Iraq about every two hours. Americans can afford to invest more in this vital federal land system.


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