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How our national wildlife refuges make cents (and dollars, too)

Whooping Cranes by Rob Mancini.
Whooping Cranes by Rob Mancini.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released an eye-opening study on the economic impact of the nation’s 550 national wildlife refuges, and two of the numbers it contained made us really sit up and take notice:

$2.4 billion — that’s how much money refuges pumped into the economy in fiscal year 2011.

35,000 — this is the number of private-sector jobs that refuges supported.

Amazing, huh? According to the study, refuges contributed an average of $4.87 in total economic output for every $1 appropriated and produced nearly $793 million in job income for local communities.

Read the study, called Banking on Nature.

Researchers examined 92 refuges and analyzed the spending of visitors in four areas — food, lodging, transportation, and other expenses (such as guide fees, land-use fees, and equipment rental). Local economies were defined as those within 50 miles of each refuge.


We were particularly impressed by the economic impact of two refuges in the editors’ backyard here in the Midwest: the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.

The Upper Mississippi River refuge is an Important Bird Area, important for migrating waterfowl, particularly Canvasbacks and Tundra Swans, and for nesting waterbirds and breeding and wintering Bald Eagles. Up to 40 percent of the nation’s waterfowl and shorebirds use the river valley during spring and fall migration.

According to USFWS, the refuge in 2011 generated $161.4 million in economic benefit for 19 counties in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The service says the refuge returned $45.64 for every $1 appropriated, calculated in 2011 dollars.

Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge


Horicon Marsh, one of our favorite places, is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the United States. It has been designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention and a globally and state Important Bird Area by American Bird Conservancy.

According to USFWS, Horicon generated almost $9 million in economic benefit for Dodge and Fond du Lac Counties in Wisconsin. The refuge returned $12.06 for every $1 appropriated.

Nine young Whooping Cranes were released at the refuge in October. The cranes are part of the Direct Autumn Release project conducted by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.


Friends of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

About the artist: Rob Mancini

Robert Mancini is an award-winning illustrator and artist with a lifelong interest in nature and birds and a passion for shorebirds and waders. He lives in Melbourne, Australia. Mancini has illustrated many natural history titles, including books published by The Nature Company (among these Birding and Natural Gardening) and by National Geographic, Australian Geographic, and Readers’ Digest. You can view his artwork and purchase a print of the illustration above on Etsy at RobManciniImages.


Originally Published

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